Turkuaz Brings Power Funk to Birmingham January 16, 2020 14:18
Letting it Slide: A Conversation with Marco Benevento January 15, 2020 02:25
Interview by Jordan Kirkland: Live & Listen
Photos by Jean Frank Photography
Calling all Southeast music enthusiasts. We would like to ask you to stop what you're doing and clear your schedule. It's officially one of our favorite times of the year, when keyboard wizard Marco Benevento brings his wildly entertaining three-piece solo project through the heart of the South. The madness kicks off on Thursday night (1/16) in Austin, TX and continues with stops in Houston (1/17), New Orleans (1/18), Birmingham (1/19), Knoxville (1/20), Asheville (1/21), Carboro, NC (1/22), Charlotte (1/23), Charleston (1/24), and Atlanta (1/25).
The band is fresh of its seventh studio release, Let it Slide, and they have never been more dialed in. After taking a totally different approach in the studio, Marco and company have a deeper catalog than ever before. Bassist Karina Rykman and drummer Dave "DB" Butler round out this prolific trio and bring a level of energy that is matched by none. Over the weekend, we had a chance to catch up with Benevento to learn more about Let it Slide and hear all about the band's plans for 2020. See below for the full conversation and make sure to catch these guys (and gals) in a city near you!
I appreciate you taking the time to chat for a few minutes today, Marco. I know that everyone in Birmingham is excited to have you back in town at Saturn on Sunday night.
Widespread Panic Bestows Ultimate Trust in New Orleans November 8, 2019 14:44
Words by Jordan Kirkland: Live & Listen
Photos by Craig Baird: Home Team Photography
Now that I’ve had several days to regroup, it seems fitting to sit down and revisit last weekend’s Halloween festivities with Widespread Panic. After 18 years of seeing this band, I finally had the opportunity to make this special tradition a priority. Halloween is always amongst the biggest annual events for any major touring act, and Widespread Panic never fails to deliver to its fervent fan base.
Speculation was rampant, as expected, leading into Thursday night’s show. Upon entering UNO Arena, fans were introduced to an elaborate stage setup, which included Christmas decorations, a taxi cab, a wrestling wring, and what appeared to be the back drop of a comedy club. We began wondering if these props could somehow be tied to Andy Kaufman, and this would prove to be the case later in the night. The band took the stage, and immediately invited NOLA’s own George Porter Jr. to join them on stage. Bassist Dave Schools let George take the lead on bass, while he focused his efforts on the rubber chicken, and the band appropriately kicked into The Meters’ “Chicken Strut.” They proceeded to get the entire room singing along for “Hey Pocky Way,” another Meters’ classic.
The first set continued with The Talking Heads’ “Papa Legba,” and originals such as “One Arm Steve,” “Love Tractor,” “Hatfield,” “All Time Low,” and “Pilgrims” would follow. It had been two and a half years since the last cover of James Taylor’s “Knockin’ Round the Zoo” (JazzFest 2017), which made this set closer that much more raucous. The second set began with the theme to Mighty Mouse playing over the PA, before the band dropped into Bloodkin’s “Henry Parsons Died.” This was followed by a powerful “Surprise Valley” > “Arleen” > “Surprise Valley.” We stomped around the “Old Neighborhood” just before a rockin’ take on “Holden Oversoul.” The next bust out came in the form of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Spoonful” (LTP 10/08/14 Montgomery, AL), and “Tallboy” had the whole place going wild.
The Halloween antics really began taking shape from here. John Bell welcomed REM’s Mike Mills to the stage, and the debut of Lou Reef’s “Perfect Day” was a beautiful surprise. At some point, a man posted up at a small table on stage left, where he proceeded to eat a meal and drink wine. Two more debuts then surfaced in the form of David Bowie’s “Starman” and REM’s “Man on the Moon” both with the help of Mills on guitar/bass and Paul Agostino on keys. “Porch Song” was an absolutely perfect way to close out this set.
The encore was without a doubt one of the more interesting live music experiences of my life. The band returned to the stage with Mills and Agostino, while drummer Duane Trucks was on bass and Dave Schools front and center. I had absolutely no idea what was going on at the time, but Schools proceeded to inform us all that “I Trusted You” for the better part of five minutes (see video below). Two more highly obscure Andy Kaufman nods followed with “This Friendly World” and “Volare,” before tour manager Steve Lopez took the stage to ask the audience to please stop smoking in the building. This is when things got really bizarre.
John Bell invited the infamous Tony Clifton to the stage. I will go ahead and admit that I didn’t realize this was keyboardist JoJo Hermann until the following day. He began singing about “Tacos” being cheap, before a “heckler” started screaming obscenities at him. Clifton appeared to be fed up with said heckler, told her to suck one, and she jumped on stage to throw multiple drinks at the band. At this point, the band exited the stage, security escorted the woman off stage, the lights came on, and we all wondered, “what the fuck just happened?” The band would immediately offer an emphatic apology to the fans via social media, which proved to be all part of an extensive Andy Kaufman inspired Halloween gag. Like I said, it was an interesting night, but it was also pure genius, in my humble opinion.
Watch Widespread Panic perform "I Trusted You" here:
The Panic faithful had plenty to discuss leading into Friday night’s show. Was this the last of the shenanigans, or would this be a common theme throughout the weekend? We wouldn’t see any gags on night two, but Jesus Christ, did we get a hot show. The first set was one big “Bowlegged” > “Chilly Sandwich,” with tunes such as “”Little Lilly,” “Visiting Day,” “Walkin’ (For Your Love),” and “You Got Yours” thrown in the middle. JB had a slight technical malfunction during “Christmas Katie,” which left the frontman singing without his guitar for the first half of the song. The highlight of the set had to be the first “Entering a Black Hole Backwards” since 2014 dropping back into “Chilly Water,” which would then segue back into “Bowlegged.” That is Widespread Panic at its finest.
Everyone’s got their own opinion, but for me, the perfect Panic set begins with “Disco" > "Diner.” This smokin' set continued with “Blackout Blues,” “The Last Straw, and “Mercy,” before we got our first “Drums” of the weekend. They came back out guns blazing with “Chainsaw City” and “Four Cornered Room,” then “Jack” led straight into a “Red Hot Mama” from Louisiana that nearly brought the house down. The band revisited the 2017 Halloween show with The Dillards’ “There is a Time,” which was originally performed on the Andy Griffith Show, and Tom Petty’s “You Wreck Me” would put the finishing touches on a damn near flawless show.
I think we were all convinced that it was Sunday at this point, but fortunately, this run began on a Thursday night. What was left in the tank for Saturday? We were in for a treat…that’s for sure. We started with a flashback to Pulp Fiction when guitarist Jimmy Herring ripped into “Rumble,” an instrumental by Link Wray & His Ray Men. The set continued with Tom Waits’ “Goin’ Out West” and “Greta,” and “Climb to Safety” would follow. Being that this song has become somewhat of a Panic anthem (even though it’s Jerry Joseph’s song), it’s reputation is somewhat controversial. I, for one, will never get tired of hearing it. On this night, I experienced one of the more euphoric body highs of my life during the first chorus. Every hair of my body was standing on edge, and it felt really fucking good.
“Junior” and “Makes Sense to Me” were next on the list, just before one of the weekend’s most exciting moments. Dumpstaphunk’s Ivan Neville joined the band for an amazing sequence of “Sleepy Monkey” > “I Walk on Guilded Splinters” (Dr. John) > “Cream Puff War" (Grateful Dead). Does it get any hotter than that? The second set was equally as impressive. We were off to the races with “Radio Child” and “Thought Sausage.” Another bust out surfaced with John Lennon & Yoko Ono’s “The Ballad of John & Yoko.” “Honkey Red” set a super heavy, serious tone, before an absolutely perfect “Driving Song” was played. “Breathing Slow” led into another rager, “Impossible,” and Vampire Blues came next. “Pigeons” is always a treat, especially when “Papa’s Home” is looming in the distance. Trucks and percussionist Sonny Ortiz led us through another impressive “Drums,” which landed back into “Papa’s” just in time for a set closing “Action Man.”
While I’ve seen several nods to the late Col. Bruce Hampton, it had been about eight years (02/14/11) since I had seen Panic play “Basically Frightened.” This would begin the encore and lead perfectly into “Blue Indian.” It then appeared that “Postcard” would close out the weekend. Per usual, the entire building was ready to shout, “This town is nuts. My kind of place. I don’t ever wanna leave.” Not so fast, y’all. We were treated to a reprise of “I Trusted You,” and I’m not sure I’ve ever laughed so hard. Are you kidding me?
There were high expectations for my first Halloween with Panic, and this band never lets me down. What almost seemed like a page out of the Phish playbook made this weekend as unique as any I’ve experienced. These musical journeys always seem to leave us feeling recharged and grateful for this fortunate life we live. There is nothing I’d rather do than embark on a weekend of mayhem with some of the best friends you could ever ask for, along with one of the greatest bands to ever take the stage.
All Things Equal 5 of 7: An Interview with Jimmy Herring & Kevin Scott September 18, 2019 12:11
Interview by Jordan Kirkland: Live & Listen
Photo by Craig Baird: Home Team Photography
Interviews and artist spotlights have always been the "bread and butter" of Live & Listen. Over the years, I've had the opportunity to talk with so many amazing artists, in an effort to learn more about their current endeavors and share these stories with as many people as possible. Earlier this week, I was asked if I had interest in chatting with famed guitarist Jimmy Herring, who just kicked off a major tour with his latest project, The 5 of 7. That was obviously an easy decision.
Many know Jimmy's work as lead guitarist for Widespread Panic, Aquarium Rescue Unit, and Jazz is Dead. This conversation focuses on The 5 of 7, which features the likes of Kevin Scott (bass), Matt Slocum (keys), Rick Lollar (guitar/vocals), and Darren Stanley (drums). The group shares one common thread: they're all students of the late Col. Bruce Hampton. As you'll read below, this commonality continues to shape and influence their approach to music and life in general.
The 5 of 7 continue their tour tonight in Iowa City and will continue trekking across the United States through early October. After a month long break, which allows Jimmy to reunite with his Widespread Panic band mates for weekends in Milwaukee & New Orleans, the 5 of 7 will continue through the Southeast, before closing things out with a multi-night run in Tokyo, Japan. See below for our full conversation with Jimmy and Kevin Scott!
Let’s get right to it. Your latest project, The 5 of 7, kicked off the tour in Colorado over the weekend. What did you take away from this band’s first official performances?
Jimmy: Yeah man. The whole idea was, in my mind...I wanted to work with some younger musicians. I'd already been working with Kevin (Scott) from the last band. Matt Slocum too, of course. They had another band, King Baby, that just blew me away. I loved Rick (Lollar) and really wanted to work with a singer. I couldn't imagine anyone else. As soon as I heard him, I thought, "This guy is great. Let's work with him." Darren Stanley (drums) had been working with Bruce (Hampton), and I'd heard him a few times. I was just knocked out by him. Kevin told me that they had a real chemistry together. So, that seemed like a no brainer. We just got together, with no gigs on the books, just to see how it felt. Nobody wanted any money. No one needed a hotel room or a flight. We just got together for fun, and we knew the first day, you know? I was like, "This is gonna be blast."
What did I take away from the first gig? Nothing's ever perfect. We know that. Every gig has gotten better so far though. The first night was Denver, then Fort Collins was better, and then Boulder was even better. So...I'm really looking forward to Iowa City tomorrow night. We're having a lot of fun out here.
Now you've had two days to hopefully rest and regroup. What does an off day look like for you on this tour?
Jimmy: You'd be laughing. Sleep 'til 2:00 PM. (laughs) The other guys don't do this. I'm older now. Sleep 'til 2:00 PM. Wake up. Stumble into the lobby. Drink coffee. Laugh at everybody. Go back to the room and make a phone call. Come back. Laugh again. Get another cup of coffee. Tell some Bruce stories. Laugh some more. Then, maybe talk about...I don't know man. That's all we've done so far. (laughs).
Has there been a particularly good Bruce story that you guys have relived this week?
Jimmy: There's probably been several. The one just we told five minutes before we called you was how he said he didn't want us to be skinny. He wanted us to get fat. He said we sounded better when we were fat.
I suppose there may be some truth to that.
Kevin: B.B. King. Albert King.
Jimmy: That's right. The fatter the better.
Kevin: Bernard Purdie. Fat.
Jimmy: The fatter you get, the better tone. (laughs)
Incredible. I'm sure it's been amazing to see this band come to life. We've covered some of this already, but what else can you tell me about how this lineup fell into place?
Jimmy: One thing I didn't say is that Kevin is the conduit between the worlds. He has had his finger on the pulse of what's happening in the Atlanta music scene for years. He's who I went to and said, "Let's try something different. I want to work with a singer. Who else is in Atlanta?" Man, I've lived in Atlanta since 1986. I got in Bruce's band three years later. And since then, I haven't been to Atlanta. (laughs)
You know what I mean? We're touring all the time. I really didn't know what was happening in Atlanta. These younger people started coming into my life, like Kevin and Duane (Trucks), and they'd tell me, "You've gotta hear this guy." I started meeting guys like Kebbi (Williams) who plays in Derek Trucks' band (Tedeschi Trucks Band). All the things he has done on the side. Kevin had that jam going on in Atlanta. I may not have been there for every one. I went to a few. I really enjoyed it a lot. I like to play with people with enthusiasm. He knows them all, and he's got that enthusiasm. He's kind of the architect of the band.
That's a great architect to have. You've had the opportunity to be a part of countless projects. How does the dynamic of this particular group continue to push you as both a guitarist and a person?
Jimmy: We have a great variety of music. It never gets boring, because it delves into all of the music we play and the spontaneity that might happen. The thing I love about playing with these guys, well, there's a lot. One of them is that they won't take you to that place at an inappropriate time. You know? Inappropriate is subjective. We could be playing a ballad, and there might be a few things that happen in the music that take us toward a Zambi direction. I don't have to worry that it won’t come back. These guys are young, but they're mature. They follow and listen to each other.
If you hear a guy play something a little left of center, the other guys will react, but if the person with the ball doesn't continue in that direction, then it's just a little funny moment, and then it goes back. There's always the threat that it might completely ascend into a spontaneous moment that might last longer than a moment. You know what I mean? I've played with a lot of other people when it might go to that place and never come back. And that's cool too, but this is not that.
We're trying to play songs without putting ourselves in prison of being stuck by the song. A song shouldn't be pre-thought out, and it shouldn't just do one thing in one certain spot. I think we're walking that line pretty well, don't you Kevin?
Kevin: Oh yeah. For sure.
Jimmy: That's the hope. That keeps me going, man. The youth and exuberance of these guys… Everybody wants to be here, and everybody gets to play. Nobody feels like they're just the background band and I'm gonna take every solo. We don't want to do that. We want everyone to get to get a chance play and interact with one another. Part of that is being able to write music that makes that possible. Hopefully, we'll write more music together. We've got some, but we want more.
We're playing some of my tunes from the past. Some of King Baby's tunes. We're doing a few covers. It's still interesting, and there's everything from ballads to funk and blues. Leanings towards jazz, but I wouldn't call it jazz, per say. We have R&B music in there. All of the things we love are a part of what we're doing. We try to pace the set where it's not too many of the same things in a row. We have a lot of tunes with extended improvisation for each band member. We're trying not to put those all in a row. That way it's not the same thing for 35-40 minutes. You know what I mean.
Absolutely. I'm sure you're well aware that you have one of the more attentive audiences around, and you've got to keep them guessing.
Jimmy: Man, it's amazing how wonderful they are. They are perfectly willing to go anywhere you want to go. It's really wonderful.
Have you noticed that this is a pretty common thread with your fans with both ARU and Panic as well?
Jimmy: Yeah, I would say that. Absolutely. Panic fans are just up for anything. They don't get bored if you go on an extended improvisation. They're loving it. And when they come to these these shows and support what we're doing, I'm so grateful. It goes all the way back to the ARU days. We started playing with Panic back in those days. We were opening them with Bruce's band, and it gave us a whole new audience. Through playing with Panic, we met the guys from Phish and Blues Traveler, and we toured with them, opening for them back in the day. It's really still with us today.
It's funny. The world seems to want to put you in a category or genre, and we don't really think about music that way. We just like music. We don't really draw a line in the sand and say, "This is jazz. This is blues. This is improvisation. This is bluegrass." We don't really think in those terms. Everyone is really stylistically diverse, and it just seems like the audience loves all of it. It's just a gift to give, to be able to blow down the walls between genres with no apologies. We're lucky.
I can only imagine how rewarding that is on your end. So, how about you, Kevin? What type of impact has building this relationship and playing with Jimmy had on you?
Jimmy: Don't make me cry, Kevin. Don't make me cry!
Kevin: I've always had a weird way of putting something in my head and saying, "I'm gonna do this." When I was younger, obviously Bruce's influence on me as a person and musician was huge. But one of the first times I heard Jimmy play guitar, I was 16 years old, and I was like, "I'm gonna work with that guy one day. It's gonna happen." The difference between what Jimmy does versus any other guitar player on the planet, and I've worked with a lot of them in the jazz/fusion realm, the way he plays is who he is. Sure, when it comes down to musicianship or guitar playing, he's number one, but as a person, he's number one. That's why people are drawn to him. That's why we go play clubs, and there are 800 people in Colorado. He appeals to people because of who he is. That's something you really can't teach somebody.
The impact of as a musician, for me, a guy like him giving everyone in the band equal opportunity. That just does not happen. A lot of other bands that I've worked with, I've essentially had to answer to someone in a certain way in terms of my playing or personality. Jimmy has given everyone the opportunity to be in a band where are no side men. That's the big difference. He gives everyone complete freedom to be themselves, just like Bruce did. That's the biggest impact I've experienced. That's the way I try to lead a band too.
Working with Jimmy has definitely had the biggest impact on me as a person and my career. He's kind of set a bar that's impossible for people to get to. In this band in particular, it's the first time I've ever been in a situation on the road where on the stage, I'm completely confident. I don't have any kind of blockage to being myself. In every other project I'm in, there is essentially a certain hat that I'll have to put on, and that's good. I love all of the projects I'm a part of, and I think the music is great. In this particular band though, I'm 100% myself. I see other people who have to be someone else when they go to work for someone. I'm saddened by that.
Jimmy: I mean, why would you hire a guy who beautifully plays his or herself, but yet you're gonna say, "No. Put that in a little box over here. We'll use that only doing certain parts of the show, or not at all." I don't understand that. We're all in this thing together. You can't do it any other way, in my opinion. We're all on the stage. Everyone's voice is combined together, and that's what makes the big picture. Why would you want to stifle that in any way?
I'm blessed, because I'm lucky enough to have a great life in music. This thing we're doing here, this is just cake. It really is. It's so easy to go out and do this. It might be a rough tour schedule, but when we get on stage and get to playing, that's the easy part. It's all that easy stuff that makes it hard. The food wasn't good, or you didn't get a good night of sleep. Whatever. With those kinds of things entering the picture, why would anyone want to complicate it more by telling someone that they can't be themselves?
You mentioned that there are at least a handful of new originals in the mix. I was curious to know how the songwriting process is playing out with this band in particular.
Jimmy: You want to take this one, Kevin?
Kevin: Sure. Someone brings a sketch to the table, and then we all comment on it. That's what is so beautiful about it as a band. Obviously, there are songs with pre-written parts that have been around for a while. In terms of a new song, Jimmy might say, "Alright. I've got this progression. What can we do with it?" Rick might suggest lyrics over it. It's just open communication, which is the basis of success of anything.
Jimmy: Absolutely, and we had the luxury of getting together without gigs on the book. The first time we got together was last November, so it's been almost a year, but with no pressure. That's what I wanted more than anything, to work with some young, enthusiastic musicians who were like, "Let's see what we can do with this. Let's see where it goes." There was no pay for the rehearsals. There were no hotel rooms.
Kevin: I've gotta tell him the story of the load-out.
Jimmy: Oh yeah.
Kevin: We basically had to load out all of the gear for the tour from a box truck with no lift. We had the (Hammond B3) and a case that weigh 400 pounds. We did all of this as a band. There wasn't a single person that left. We all could've said, "I don't want to do this. This isn't my job." Everyone was in there, in the trenches, lifting this heavy ass shit and getting it done. Everyone took responsibility and said, "Let's knock this out as fast and safe as we can." It was actually a good moment to begin the tour.
Jimmy: These guys wouldn't let me help with the B3. I wanted to, but they wouldn't let me do it. We've got all these strong young people. I'll say this though. I can't imagine doing a gig without a B3 organ. It's heavy. It's a game changer. It changes your travel plan. If it weren't for the B3, we could rent a cargo van, stuff the gear in there, and we would be just fine. We could save tons of money. But you know what? Without the B3, where is the Earth? We need the B3. The B3 is critical to what we're doing. And Matt Slocum is a master of it.
Kevin: An absolute master.
Jimmy: The idea of touring without a B3 is just not an option. So yeah, I'd get down there and lift that damn B3, because I don't want to go to the next town without it. Even guys who aren't playing the B3 know how important it is.
You really can't replicate the sound of the B3. So Jimmy, this tour puts you back on the road a bit more; hopping from one city to the next. It can be a grueling lifestyle, but I know there's some excitement about getting back out there as well. What do you enjoy most about touring and playing the more intimate venues?
Jimmy: I would say that the camaraderie is probably number one. You're in the trenches together. And let's face it, a lot of people have it a lot worse. We've all had it a lot worse. There are people calling me that I've known for 30 years going, "What are you doing to yourself? You're 57 years old!" There's just a rhythm you get into with a band playing a schedule like this. You don't have a twelve man crew. You have a three or four man crew. The musicians help each other. Setting each other’s rigs up, you know?
It's hard to tear down your own rig, because people are still in the room screaming at you. "Kevin! Kevin!"
Kevin: They aren't screaming my name.
Jimmy: Oh yeah they are. They're screaming everybody's name. If they see you on stage after the show, they'll be screaming at you. But setting up your rig when no one’s around, that's easy to do. We all take part in that. It makes things easier for the four crew members we have, which are wearing five hats a piece. One guy is the tour manager, merch guy, spiritual leader, and God knows what else. You've got a guy who is guitar tech, bass tech, and keyboard tech. Then you've got another guy driving the bus. He’s out there lifting gear, and he shouldn't be. That's not his job, but everybody wants to help. I like that, and that's one of the things I take away from a tour like this.
That's not to say that I don't love when there's a twelve man crew. You show up, and everything is already done when you walk in the door. That's great. This is a different thing. I feel like with the smaller venues, well, "small" is relative. If we can't fit on the stage, I don't like that. If we're playing a venue that is too small for our footprint on stage, I'm not happy about that. When I say small, I mean any place that has a big enough stage for this five-piece band's equipment, and we do have a lot of equipment. The reason is because in this day and age, you've got Kemper and ax effects for guitar players where they plug into a computer, and it goes to the house. There are no speakers on stage. Bass player is playing through computers. Keyboard player is playing through jack-of-all-trades keyboards, or a computer.
This whole mass castration of rock and roll; where you can't play louder than we're talking right now without offending someone. I don't know what to say to those people. I think I would say, "If our band is too loud for you, I'm sorry. Don't come here." We're playing with 40 watt guitar amps. Kevin's got a SVP bass amp. It's only the sound of a generation, you know? This is the music that made us want to play. So why would we be worrying about offending someone? That's what we love. As long as we can fit on the stage, we're gonna set up close together, where we can feel each other’s sweat and communicate better with each other.
I guess I cut my teeth with Bruce in these little rooms. There is a thing that you get there that you just don't get in the bigger venues. You can call it more intimate. That's one thing. It is more intimate. The people are literally like five feet in front of you. I love that, and I don't want to hurt anyone with volume. You know, it is weird sometimes to look at the front row and realize someone's face is right in your speaker cabinet. I'll tell people to put their ear plugs in. We'll cover up the speakers with something to help keep from hurting anyone. We certainly don't want to hurt anyone, but I don't want to play through a 12-watt amp. You know what I mean?
I don't think your audience would want that either.
Jimmy: They probably wouldn't, man. But you've got to have a room that can contain these five people. If you're in a room that's too small that can't contain the sound of these five people, that's probably not good. I mean, I know that we'll be in some rooms like that. Those first three gigs we did, none of those rooms were that small. They aren't too small for our sound. We had The Gothic in Denver, The Aggie in Ft. Collins, and The Fox in Boulder. What does The Fox hold, like 700 people?
Jimmy: But it has a real stage, and we can fit on it. That room is big enough to contain our sound. We're in heaven. 700 people. That's perfect. That's what I take away from all of this. It's just fun, and it gets you back to what made you want to play in the first place.
Love hearing that. Just one more thing before we wrap this up. I know it's early, and you guys all have busy schedules, but what do you see for the 5 of 7 beyond this fall? Is this a project we could see continue and evolve?
Jimmy: The idea of it was that we would play this tour and see how we all felt about it. Having played three shows, I can say that if keeps going like this, yes it's happen again. As long as everyone in the band wants it to, and they feel like doing more. From what I've experienced thus far, I want to play more. But I'm older now. This is part of the problem. I'm older, and I love to play, man. Sometimes touring can be tough. It's not really the touring though. It's that commitment you have to make a year in advance, where you see your whole life laid out on a calendar.
It's like someone picking your clothes out for you and saying, "Here's what you're wearing on Tuesday, Wednesday..." Sometimes it's hard to make that commitment. Now that people don't buy albums like they used to, touring is a crowded place to be. I mean, we've always toured. That's our thing. We've always made records, but it's not like the records have sold enough to stay at home. We weren't Steely Dan, you know what I'm saying?
The point being, I'm just older now. You’re at the end of a tour, and people are already looking to book dates 12 months out. I'm like, "What? Wait a minute. I just want to go fishing. I don't want to think about this right now." Sometimes I just want to hide for a little bit after a tour. If I have some time, I want to see my family, go out in the woods, and do some things I didn't get to do when I was younger.
I'll probably be holding it back from being all it can be. If we were to tour 180 shows a year...oh my God, it might be able to get bigger if we toured that much. That's what it would take to make it really take off. You've got to be on the road all the time. I don't want to do that. I hope the other guys can be patient with me.
Having said all of that, after this tour, if I feel like I feel right now, I'll be willing to talk about the next batch of dates within two months after we finish. I mean, I still play with Panic, and we don't tour anymore, but we will play a lot of shows. That's the number one priority. I can't do anything that gets in the way of that. Sometimes I have to wait and see what the Panic plans are before I can do anything else, and that's fine. I love those guys, and I love being in that band. I'm sure we will play more though. So far, everybody loves each other, and we're having fun.
Watch Jimmy Herring & The 5 of 7 performing in Denver here:
Video by Coloartist
Tyler Neal Band Celebrates Album Release at The Vista Room September 12, 2019 13:08
Photos by Donna Winchester
Words by Rob Winchester
The Jauntee & The Talismen Join Forces in Birmingham on Saturday August 20, 2019 18:59
Hog Days Spotlight: North Mississippi Allstars' Luther Dickinson August 12, 2019 12:55
Photos by Jean Frank Photography
Interview by Inge Hill: Druids Charity Club
We caught up with Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars on August 1st while he was on his way to a gig in St Louis, right on the familiar banks of the Mississippi River. The Allstars will be headlining the Third Annual Hog Days of Summer, with support by Dale Watson and Will Stewart. Hog Days will take place in the Union Station Train Shed in Montgomery, Alabama on August 17, 2019. The discussion got into community music, musical collaborations, hill country house parties, BBQ, his approach to recording albums, his intentions with the blues repertoire, country music influences, and mythology in blues music. This interview was conducted by Inge Hill for Live & Listen.
All right, the benefit of the day, as I think you know is a barbecue and Americana music festival in support of Hogs for the Cause. Y'all played at their event down in New Orleans last year with your North Mississippi Osborne project. As you know, the charity benefits the families of children afflicted with pediatric brain cancer. What does playing music for the community mean to you?
Luther: I think that playing community based music is a huge honor and a privilege. I always try to be on my best behavior when I'm playing for a community. You know, it's one thing when you're playing at a nightclub and your friends, family, and fans come out and see you. But when a community invites you in, it becomes totally about them, and it means a lot. I always try to show respect to the community, because it's a responsibility to entertain and to be kind. I think in a lot of ways music is a community service. I always take those situations very seriously.
You know, my favorite thing these days is when I see, like, a mother my age singing along with us. She's dancing and singing along with the kids with a baby on her hip. Then maybe the grandparents are back in the back on a lawn chair. Man, I love that! Cause that's the way we grew up. We grew up watching my dad and his friends play while we were just running around while we were little kids!
Multiple generations, all together in one room, having a good time!
Luther: Love it!
Speaking of that show New Orleans...what a great collaboration that was with Anders (Osborne): North Mississippi Osborne. What new perspectives did you gain through your collaborations with Anders on your music, anything?
Luther: Oh man, Anders has been a huge influence on my life and my art. He's like an older brother to us, and it's funny, as soon as we met and started playing music together, our orbits kept interspersing. We kept on bumping into each other, as we're in the same circle. Recently, we haven't been playing together as much. Our orbits have become much wider. But man I miss him, and I love Anders so much. Anytime to play music with Anders or just to talk to Anders. I cherish those opportunities. He's such a wise person and such a beautiful example of positivity and also shaping your life into what you want. He's been through so much, and he's so creative. He's a true force of nature. Watching him write is like a force of nature.
You know, Carl...we started playing with Anders, and Carl Dufrene was playing with Anders, and now Carl plays with us, cause Anders moved on to some other sounds and Carl just jumped right in with us seamlessly. Which is beautiful man. So we'll bring some Louisiana love to the gig no matter what!
So, hill country house parties are the stuff of legends. It seems I've heard that RL's (Burnside) and Junior's (Kimbrough) must have been among the most infamous. Can you tell us about any of those that you may have attended or played at as an aspiring musician, or what the vibe was like at those parties?
Luther: Oh yeah! Well first of all the traditions are alive and well man. We just played the 14th annual North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic, and Junior Kimbrough and his family were well represented and Burnside's family was well represented. We played, and people traveled from near and far to come play. I feel like it's one of those rural regional music traditions. It's a lot like New Orleans with the musical families. It's very syncopated and real heavy. Also, New Orleans music is good time music. It's party music, you know. It's celebratory music. It's not a downer, you know?
Absolutely. There must've been someone manning the barbecue pits. Did y'all ever get into any barbecue at those parties?
Luther: Oh yeah, yeah! Othar Turner...he was a Mississippi fife and drum musician. His annual gig that he held was a picnic, as he called it. It was all based on barbecue and illegal moonshine; selling illegal moonshine liquor, you know? Food, barbecue, moonshine, and corn liquor. Those things go hand in hand with the music. The music of Mississippi hill country is like, you know, screwed and chopped from Texas. There's psychedelic rock from San Francisco; the music reflects the culture and the culture's drinking some good stuff.
Absolutely, it's kind of a blend of a variety of flavors.
Luther: Hahaha, a variety of buzzes.
Right! I do see a comparison of barbecue in that you'll find different flavor, style, and intent across regions of both barbecue and the blues. One thing about the Mississippi blues that I find really unique is the vast difference in styles across regions, and even from one town to the next when you're driving across Mississippi. To what extent did you or does your intimate exposure to this kind of musical blues gumbo effect your approach to the craft today?
Luther: Oh totally. I mean everything I do is filtered through growing up. Not only with the music of my neighborhoods that I grew up in, but also my dad's music, you know? My dad (Jim Dickinson) was a great musician, great piano player, singer, songwriter, record producer. He loved roots music of all kind. Kind of like the Grateful Dead. He would take roots music and use it for framework for his improvisation. He might play a Chuck Berry song or a Bo Diddley song and just jam on it. We learned that from dad as well, you know? The thing about hill country music that we grew up with is rhythmic based more than harmonically heavy. So, we have fife and drum music or RL Burnside's, or Junior Kimbrough. Very drone based music. Very minimal chord changes; which made it sound modern and timeless in a weird way.
Like that drone, it almost reminds me of that persistent heat that you can almost like see radiating off the highway in the summer.
One common element across blues genres is a focus on the feeling over technical perfection. I know y'all record your albums live for the most part. Can you talk about that process a little bit?
Luther: Yeah, we do. Sometimes we layer tracks. That's a fun way to build songs in the studio, but our favorite thing to do is to capture a moment you know? Get a feeling, and we strive to get live vocals. We definitely strive to get live ensemble performances from the musicians. All of the solos are recorded live. All of the improvisations are live, and we're making improvisational roots music. Why would you dissect it to put it together? If you're making rap music, pop music, or commercial music, you know, go for it put together. We're trying to capture what we do night to night out on the road, you know?
So I know you take your role as caretaker to blues music very seriously, kind of protecting the repertoire, but it's clear to me that you don't mean that the music needs to be kept as this static entity like it's in a safe or anything. Can you tell me about your intention here in regards to your role with this vast catalog of blues music from the guys before you?
Luther: Yeah, well you know that comes. My dad was a song collector as a rock first generation rock n' roller and a folk musician. He loved to write songs, but he also just loved songs. He always said that your repertoire, whoever has the most obscure songs in the coffee house was the king of the coffee house in the folk days, you know? He loved good songs and reinterpreting good songs. I learned that from him, and he taught me so many songs. Then also growing up with Othar Turner, who would like teach me by hand, or we would sit on his front porch and just improvise and just make up songs. RL Burnside...he took me on the road in '97, and I just sat at his feet every night singing along. Then these guys teach you these songs by hand, and you owe it to them to pass it along, you know?
It's folk music. It's not disposable pop music. There's nothing the matter with that, you know? It's fun writing songs, making records you want, but when you're talking about folk music and the American art form of being a song spirit, it's important to pass 'em on. And what we like doing with the Allstars is reinterpreting old melodies with a new beat, you know, like making it more palatable and danceable. To me, it's the melody and the poetry that have to be protected. The rest, you can wrap 'em up however you like!
Right, if you bring more people into the fold, more power to you!
Okay, I like that answer a lot. So, the crossover of blues and country music is where we like to play as a festival. It's fascinating how country, blues, folk, and gospel interact converge and diverge. We were kind of talking about this earlier. The other two acts at Hog Days of Summer this year have stronger country leanings. Can you speak to any influences from from your music that leans more towards country that may have affected your style, basically country influences?
Luther: Well, there's definitely the more song oriented style. I didn't grow up playing country music. I didn't grow up listening to country music, but there's definitely elements of rural music in everything. I'm more of a folk singer than a country singer. You know what I mean? I think more of what we do is more like psychedelic folk rock than anything, you know? We're not a blues band or a country band. But what I love...I love the songs like Mississippi John Hurt and the Yodeling Brakeman Jimmie Rodgers. You know he was the first guitar player to sell a million records. Jimmie Rodgers, he was one of those guys that transcends the genre. I just like pretty songs. I like pretty melodies. I don't care what label you put on it.
Right, yeah we can get too much into labels sometimes these days.
Luther: Yeah, I'm really starting to think that all those labels are old fashioned in a way. There's all just products of trying to sell music and put them in bins, you know? Put names on them so they can be sold and be consumed. In this day and age, I think we should be more open minded. It's like...everything is so influenced by everything else now and the future generations are only going to become more so. I think we should abandon those labels.
I agree with you 100%. Okay moving on, I only have a few more questions here. This next ones a little more far out. I want to talk about the mythology behind this kind of music and the persistent symbolism we see. The south, as you know, is known for its storytelling but Mississippi kind of just seems like its on another level. Focusing on music and not the rich literary tradition we have: Casey Jones, the Sugar Man and the Clear Creek Bridge, and of course the Crossroads. We love all that stuff. Is there something in the water over there that creates such vivid stories and imaginations?
Luther: Yeah, that's a great question man! I think that maybe being slow to modernize in the last century is part of it. I just think it's a great tradition of story tellers. You know there's John Henry and Stagger Lee. There's lots of great folk heroes from all regions. You got Aces and Eights. You got the coward Jack McCall. You got folk stories from the Western pioneers, the cowboys!
So, yeah man those folk legends. It's two things that I've been fascinated with in the last ten years. In the last ten years, I've gotten to know the Grateful Dead repertoire from playing with Phil Lesh, and...man! Robert Hunter was fantastic at expanding and adding to the American vernacular. You know, the American folksy road vernacular. It's been awesome to get to know Robert Hunters lyrics more and more. He's on par with Bob Dylan when it comes to the American folk mythology. It's the oral history, you know?
Yeah, I like how Robert Hunter doesn't paint a picture for you perfectly. He leaves a lot to your interpretation...
I can see that seems to fit with the southern mythology as well, where the details are a little sketchy and some of them might be true. Some of it is up to your imagination. It's all a little unclear.
Luther: Exactly, print the legend, haha.
Ah, yep. That's good stuff. Well you're driving into Saint Louis right now. It's got its own rich musical history. You're playing a gig on the banks of the Mississippi River. What were you listening to right now before I called you?
Luther: Oh man! I grabbed a stack of my dad's music to celebrate 10 years since his passing: August 15th. So I'll be listening to his records. I was listening to Ry Cooder's record Boomer's Story when you called. It was really good man, but I haven't listened to a lot of my fathers music since he passed. I really really enjoyed it today. When you mourn someone that you loved so much and collaborated with so much, the music is so close sometimes its been hard to listen to his music. So, it is really enjoyable today yeah.
Yeah he had a huge career, and I know it's a lot of material for you to listen in on. Like what he played on and produced himself.
Luther: Yeah man, we've all been so fortunate. He was fortunate. He grew up in Memphis in the 50's and later on went on to play on "Wild Horses" by the Rolling Stones and the Time Out of Mind record with Bob Dylan. He also produced The Replacements..just a wonderful career! Ry Cooder once again, all the Memphis rock n' rollers and folk music he grew up around. We're just so fortunate man. Like I said, we're so grateful to be granted the opportunity to play the music that we love. We couldn't do that without the support from people, man.
You've been doing something right, for a long time.
Luther: Trying, trying to do my best. That's all I can do!
Right, well I know your family is your rock, and I wanted to say that my wife and I are expecting a little girl in December, our first. Do you have any advice for us?
Luther: Oh, man! Well she'll lead you the way. She'll be the new boss. Just agree with your wife and try to be as easy as possible. Enjoy it! Make time for yourself to enjoy the time with the little ones, you know? It goes so fast, and it's so fun. Congratulations!
Thank you, sir! Yeah, Luther I'm gonna say this one more time, but we are so proud to have you on our stage. It's gonna be a good time in Montgomery, and I look forward to seeing y'all up there!
Luther: Thank you so much man for the support, I appreciate it. We look forward to it! Thank you man.
L&L Exclusive Premiere: "Roll It Back" with LUTHI August 6, 2019 19:35
Interview by Tiffany Clemons: Live & Listen
The funky septet that is LUTHI knows how to bring the party, and it’s a big one. “Boogie Circus” is the most colorful description of their sound so far. “We like the term Cumberland Funk too,” says frontman Christian Luthi, an homage to the river that flows through its Nashville home and a sound that blends the city's often under-appreciated musical history. What’s very evident in talking with (what they call) “The LUTHI Crew” is the shared passion for helping others let loose.
In anticipation of their new single, “Roll It Back,” that drops everywhere on Friday, August 9, (pre-save it on Spotify), we were recently able to catch up with Christian Luthi (lead) and Amber Woodhouse (sax, vocals, sparkly wardrobe) to ask a few questions. As a special bonus, we have the exclusive premiere of "Roll It Back" available for you to stream today!
LUTHI has quite a crew. Tell us how LUTHI became who it is today, and if you could have any artist dead or alive join the crew, who would it be and why?
Christian / Amber: The band came together organically. We focused on finding incredible people who were also incredible players. It’s very difficult to choose just one artist, but Prince would be quite the experience!
You are no "Stranger" to being on the road, most recently with Moon Taxi. What are some things that you learned from touring with them, and what are you looking forward to most when you hit the road in a couple of months with Magic City Hippies?
Christian / Amber: Moon Taxi has a great fan base so it was cool having the opportunity to meet so many new fans face to face. We can’t wait to travel to new markets and make new friends and fans on our tour with Magic City Hippies as well. (Check out the recap from Moon Taxi’s NYE show with LUTHI and Sparkle City Disco)
Your new single “Roll It Back” drops on Friday, and I think everyone can agree that we grow up too fast. What inspired the song?
Amber: Inspired by his time hanging with his niece over Christmas, Christian wanted to write a song about how quickly we all grow up. He says, “When we’re young we want to be old and when we’re old we want to be young.”
When it comes to creating new music, what does that process look like for the LUTHI crew?
Christian / Amber: It generally starts with the kernel of an idea, whether it’s a lyrical concept or a melody. We get together as a team and focus on listening to each other's ideas. The synergy between the crew is what brings those ideas to life.
And speaking of new music, can we expect the full follow up to "Stranger" anytime soon?
Christian: We will be releasing various singles throughout the rest of the year, and we will be compiling all of them for a physical release in the near future.
I’ve been lucky enough to catch you live a handful of times, and it truly looks like you take off to another planet (in a good way!) when performing. It's clear that you love what you’re doing. What keeps you going night after night?
Christian / Amber: We all truly feel that we were put on this planet to play music, and we feel very blessed to do it alongside our closest friends. We know we’re better together. Also, the energy from our audience gives us new life every night.
Catch LUTHI’s infectious energy on tour with Magic City Hippies this fall and a special Halloween show with Moon Taxi at Avondale Brewing Company in Birmingham, AL. Check out their full schedule and pre-save “Roll It Back,” streaming everywhere Friday, August 9, 2019.
Electric Blue Yonder Reflects on Recent East Coast Run July 3, 2019 15:57
Photo by Duncan O'Boyle
Interview by T-Bird: Staff Writer for Live & Listen
The band Electric Blue Yonder has been around for a handful of years, and has created a reputation for intimate songwriting showcases as well as raging shows in the River Region and beyond lately. We recently sat down with guitarist/vocalist Johnny Veres to discuss some of the most recent shows and plans for upcoming singles and a full-length album.
What is the lineup of the band?
Johnny: I’m Johnny Veres, I sing and play electric guitar. My wife Beth sings and plays acoustic. Russell Thomas Bush plays electric bass and upright, and Sam Pittinos plays drums as our core band, but sometimes we bring in other players and grow to the show. We also scale back to a 3 piece (upright, acoustic, and electric) so we can go from an intimate songwriter experience to a rocking show on the right stage.
Electric Blue Yonder is fresh off a tour of the East Coast. Can you tell me about some of the highlights from that tour?
Johnny: This is tough. There’s a good story in every moment of the tour.
We started by playing in a cave at a bar called Rattle Snake Saloon, which was surreal in so many ways. We half expected the chicken wire screen across the stage but thankfully they sell draft beer in styrofoam cups. Our friend Jimmy Teardrop joined us for this and the Cloverdale concert series dates just before he set out on a tour with Alex Williams. He’s a monster guitar player. It was great to hear his take on some of our music.
We played a Sofar show in NoHo at this spot called Recess that sells “hemp infused sparkling water” and everything was neon pink and blue with cloud lights on the ceiling. It felt like that room was designed for our band.
Our Sunday show at Toad in Cambridge was maybe the most memorable. We played Boston the night before and had some time to explore, so I showed Beth and Russell some of our dear friend Andrew’s old stomping grounds and went to lunch at a restaurant he had taken me to years ago. We headed over to load into the venue without much expectations for a rainy Sunday evening, but were pleasantly surprised by a bustling crew of locals doing a record swap style party where folks brought their own records and took turns playing their favorite songs. It was rad. Everyone was so warm and welcoming, and suddenly it didn’t feel so dreary. We even ran into someone that plays bagpipe for a certain Boston based group.
On top of that we met Steve Morse, a long time contributor to music at the Boston Globe and current Rock History teacher at Berklee College of Music. Steve regaled us with old industry tales, a sharp wit, and as he put it “beer on NYT’s dime.” He also wrote us these words about our music:
"I went on a whim but became a devoted fan after seeing them. They played a meditative mashup of trippy folk-rock psychedelia, cut with a raw, Alabama flavor befitting their roots. Captivating harmony vocals and skilled, almost Nick Drake-like guitar fills complete the picture. Would love to see them again."
That one felt really good.
We caught up with an old friends in Philly, saw sprinkles of family, and other beautiful humans along the way. We also played maybe the most raucous show in Americus, Georgia with our good friend and Blues player, Neal Lucas. Small town shows are great because the people that attend really care and are excited to have guests in their city. We were described as “post punk beach boys” there as well, which we totally dig. EBY always feels the love there!
Lastly, we finished up in Tuscaloosa with a friend opening that just blew our socks off, Patrick O’Sullivan. Druid City Brewing is another spot that feels like family when you’re there.
Speaking of Tuscaloosa, you and Beth just played Black Warrior Songwriter Festival there this past weekend as well?
Johnny: We did. It was awesome to get to rep EBY in a format that we don’t often get to. We’ve been told that we’re like a star peg between a square and a round hole. We don’t quite fit in either, so sometimes it’s difficult to know where to place in festivals like these. These folks had an open mind and didn’t care about “genres” so I think we all had fun together.
Do you have plans for a full-length album?
Johnny: We are working on our full length in the studio now and targeting an early fall release date.
Will it be pressed to vinyl or available to stream?
Johnny: We will definitely put it out on all digital media platforms, and vinyl will be in the future. We have our first vinyl single release coming out this summer so be on the look-out for that as well!
Do you have plans for single releases?
Johnny: There’s one more late summer before the album drops, and we just put out “Bluster” a few weeks back.
What platforms are you available on?
Johnny: All the digital ones!
When/where is your next tour planned?
Johnny: We are booking a run out to Oregon and back over September and part of October. If everything goes as planned, this will be a super special tour. If you want us to come to your town hit us up!
Do you have any shows coming up in your hometown of Montgomery, AL?
Johnny: Our next date in town is at Commerce Beer Works with Kyle Kimbrell 7/6 at 10pm (Doors at 9).
Stream Electric Blue Yonder's "Bluster" here:
One More Saturday Night with Dead & Company in Atlanta July 1, 2019 14:03
Over the past fifty years, the city of Atlanta has played host to countless moments in Grateful Dead history. When looking back over the band’s illustrious career, it’s no surprise that tickets were in such high demand on Saturday night. The blazing summer heat was met with an equally hot ticket, as Dead & Company made their annual visit to Cellairis Amphitheatre at Lakewood over the weekend. It’s always extra special returning to this venue for any Dead related project, as I experienced my first “Dead show” here on the Wave The Flag tour in 2004. While the roster has evolved and some songs might have a slightly different sound, the fact that we’re still able to gather and celebrate this music with nearly 20,000 people is truly remarkable.
When this band came together in the fall of 2015, many of us didn’t know what to think. The “Fare Thee Well” shows were a very recent memory, and I’m not sure that anyone ever expected to see John Mayer playing lead guitar alongside Bobby, Billy, and Mickey. What the Deadhead nation has witnessed since then has been nothing short of magical. The six-piece now has nearly five years under their belt, and Mayer, Oteil Burbridge, and Jeff Chimenti have proven to be the perfect combination for this interpretation of the Grateful Dead.
The band came out of the gate with guns blazing on Saturday night. “Scarlet Begonias” and “The Music Never Stopped” made for a beautiful pairing. “Alabama Getaway” proved to be one of the more rockin’ moments of the night. Weir has always done a phenomenal job with the Johnny Cash catalog, and “Big River” was certainly on point. It’s always a treat to hear “West LA Fadeaway,” even if D&C’s rendition is slowed down just a bit. Weir appeared the play the first few notes of “He’s Gone” before quickly aborting, switching guitars, and allowing Mayer to lead the way through a killer “Tennesee Jed.” The first set would end just as strong as it started, as “Bird Song” worked its way in and out of “Loose Lucy” before coming back in full force.
The sun was finally starting to set, and the band returned to the stage after a lengthy set break. An extended jam eventually led us to “The Other One,” which would then segue into a surprising stand alone “Franklin’s Tower.” Mayer led the band through “Crazy Fingers” in impressive fashion. Any time I’m fortunate enough to hear the “Lady with a Fan” > “Terrapin Station” combo is a very special occasion. This particular performance was perfect in every way. They eventually made their way back to “The Other One” before unleashing Hart & Kreutzmann for “Drums” > “Space.” The rest of the band returned to stage and eventually hit the opening notes of “Althea,” the song which led Mayer to discover the Dead’s music. Weir then performed one of the more coveted Garcia ballads in “Standing on the Moon,” before “One More Saturday Night” ended the set in proper fashion.
After the “Scarlet Begonias” opener, many wondered if and when we would hear “Fire on the Mountain.” Fortunately, the band returned for the encore and Burbridge finally had his chance to shine on lead vocals. Walking out of the venue, I felt that familiar since of gratitude that can only be achieved by these unique musical journeys. While I was lucky enough to stumble across the Grateful Dead’s music at a young age, it was just after the passing of Jerry Garcia. The reality that I’m able to be a part of this experience so many years later is something I'll never take for granted. These are moments that I’ll cherish for as long as I live, and hopefully, there will be many more Grateful nights to come.
Exit/In Announces Tribute to Phish, Grateful Dead, & Allman Brothers June 26, 2019 12:08
"We’ve all grown up studying Phish’s music and have seen more of their shows than any other band but have never embarked on performing an entire set. What has always attracted me to Trey’s playing is his unique style of creating melodies that the band and audience can latch onto and inspire a feeling of universal connectivity. This is going to be a rare and special occasion and we’re excited to take part along with some of our favorite musical cohorts." - Whit Murray of Maradeen
Navigating the New Orleans Heart with Mike Doussan May 31, 2019 10:18
Interview by Brett Hutchins: BrettOnBands.com
What does it mean to be New Orleans? The city’s magnetic pull will forever grip outsiders, but what’s it like to survive as a native son, steeped in a scene brimming with free thinkers and constant communal revelry?
For roots rocker Mike Doussan, it means finding purpose.
Raising a family and the suicide of his brother forced his hand in finding his, but through the mentorship of his drummer son August and his focused work on mental health, it’s obvious that this is a musician determined to make his work matter.
It’s a busy week for Doussan, with the release of his new record Yesterday’s Troubles and release parties at The Maple Leaf in New Orleans and Paradise Bar on Pensacola Beach. Luckily, he was able to squeeze us in to chat about his new focus, the necessity of honesty in songwriting, and the camaraderie of the New Orleans music scene.
Mike Doussan’s story is intrinsic to the human condition. There’s pain and pleasure, grit and grace, but much like the city of New Orleans and music itself, true beauty rises from chaos. His songs are proof.
When did you start playing and why?
Mike: I started playing guitar when I was 8. My dad played and I remember always loving when he plugged in and cranked up his Strat through his Peavy Stereo Chorus 212. One day I asked him to teach me and that was it. I never looked back. I remember the first lick he taught me was the signature lick from Derek and the Dominos “Layla.” I was hooked after that.
What was the a-ha moment of knowing you could make this a full-time gig?
Mike: I was 23 or 24 when I started getting out into the clubs and sitting in with bands around New Orleans. Eric Lindell was one of the cats I would sit in with and we became pretty close. We both lived in Algiers Point so it was easy for us to get together and jam, or walk the dogs, or hit the local bars for the happy hour drink specials and free mini tacos. One day he called me up to play an acoustic duo gig with him on a boat. I agreed and loaded up my guitars in his purple PT Cruiser to head to the gig. We ended up in the parking lot of the Empire boat launch, a long ways away from where I had imagined this gig would be, and when we arrived, he informed me we wouldn’t be needing the guitars.
At this point I was a little nervous, but went along without question. We boarded a shrimp boat and idled out into the bay under the late night sky. After hauling in the nets after the third drop, sorting through hundreds of shrimp, and a handful of beers, I asked Eric why he told me we had a gig only to take me shrimping. He said, “I took you out here to get you away from everything you know and tell you to quit your job and play music.” About 6 weeks later, I quit my job in construction and started booking my band full time.
Talk about the grind of the New Orleans music scene. It seems like there is a balance in the city between musical camaraderie and healthy competition for gigs.
Mike: I’ve never felt competition in the New Orleans scene. From day one I was welcomed by well-seasoned musicians to share their stages. I still feel that same camaraderie and I feel it’s my duty to extend that camaraderie to the younger cats coming up in the scene.
Compare being a songwriter to being a sideman. Is it easier to throw all of yourself out there when it’s stuff you’ve written?
Mike: I believe my passion for playing doesn’t discriminate between my own songs or someone else’s. Of course, I may have a stronger connection to something I’ve written, but I like to put all I have into everything I do.
With the new record, has it been a conscious effort to move to a more folky Americana style and if so what prompted that?
Mike: For my last two records, Sin or Salvation and Yesterday’s Troubles, I’ve made a conscious effort to let the songs be what they are. I’m not trying to fit in any genre. A lot of my writing comes out with a kind of folky feel to it, which I think is natural to a guy writing with an acoustic guitar, but I have so many different influences that are showcased on these last two records, you’d be hard pressed to fit it in a box.
What’s the secret to balancing family life with the rock and roll?
Being present. You have to be present for both the family and the music. It gets tough at times, but you can’t phone either of them in. They both deserve everything you have to offer. I couldn’t do it without my wife, Maggie, who has been so understanding and supportive of what’s demanded of me as a musician. And my kids are supportive too. It’s important to me to be able to show them that you can follow your dreams and do what you want to do to make a living.
What’s it like watching your son August grow as a drummer?
Mike: Watching August grow as a drummer has been a trip. He has such a natural, round pocket. Doug Belote, who is the drummer on Yesterday’s Troubles, compared him to Jim Keltner (Traveling Wilburys, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan.) It’s funny hear such high praise directed towards a 7 year old, but he backs it up behind the kit. He’ll be sitting in with us on the Paradise Inn Release Parties in Pensacola Beach.
If he only had one drummer he could listen to to learn from, who would it be?
Mike: He’s sleeping now and feel that I can’t answer that for him.
Whether it’s being so involved with August or your work with mental health after your brother’s suicide, it seems like you’ve tapped into the higher power of music. Was there a specific point when you realized your music had the potential to do something important?
Mike: It started before both August’s birth and my brother’s death. I remember hearing the Ryan Adams' Heartbreaker record and being blown away by the honesty in his songwriting. That record influenced some of the writing for Sin or Salvation. Over the years, I’ve tried to harness that brutally honest approach and hone my craft to reflect that. It just so happens that August was born and Brett died on the journey. Those experiences have definitely led to deeper thought and expression. The song has been such an important part of my therapy and I’m lucky to be able to express myself in such a universal art form. I know there are a lot of people out there suffering, and for some, a song might be the only thing they can relate to, so I try to include messages of hope in my music, and hope is what the theme of the new record is all about. Yesterday’s Troubles are gone.
When it comes to mental health, how does music help us?
Mike: Music can help us in so many ways! A song from our youth can remind us of good times, or certain people or places, and bring up happy memories. It can also help us grieve hardships or losses in our lives by allowing us to connect to a songwriter that has experienced similar pain. Being able to write songs that I can channel my experiences through and have them mean something to others is something I will forever be grateful for.
What unique challenges does the typical musician face in staying healthy mentally?
Mike: A lot of musicians, like most artists, face so many factors daily that can make it a struggle to stay mentally healthy. For one, the typical pay for a musician is pretty low. That alone can lead to a poor diet, less than adequate housing, lack of health insurance, etc. Being constantly in a bar scene can lead to increased alcohol consumption which is a well known depressant. It’s also common for drugs to run in the same circles as musicians.
There’s also the possibility of rejection that we face daily. A lot of gigs that you are basically forced to take to make ends meet are for crowds that could care less if you are there playing music or not. So you’re over there in the corner, playing your heart out, trying to make some sort of connection with just one person in the room and there’s not so much as a golf clap at the end of your songs. When you combine all of these factors with drugs and alcohol used as coping tools, it’s very easy for a musician’s mental health to deteriorate quickly.
Stream Mike Doussan's new album Yesterday's Troubles here:
Purchase Mike Doussan’s new record ‘Yesterday’s Troubles’ at MikeDoussanMusic.com starting Friday, May 31st.
Hog Days of Summer Will Feature North Mississippi Allstars & More May 23, 2019 10:11
Design by Yellow Hammer Creative
Press Release via Druids Charlity Club
Headlining the 3rd Annual Hog Days of Summer, Druids Charity Club pleased to introduce a band that probably needs no introduction around these parts: North Mississippi Allstars. A mainstay on the southern circuit and beyond for more than two decades, this marks their first return to Montgomery, AL since 2001.
The core of North Mississippi Allstars (NMAS) are brothers Cody (drums, piano, synth bass, programming and vocals) and Luther (guitar and vocals) Dickinson; today they are joined by bassist Carl Dufresne. Founded in 1996, the venerable NMAS embody the longstanding blues tradition of multigenerational music craftsmanship, in their case having learned the magic from their father, the highly regarded Memphis-based musician and producer Jim Dickinson, and their community at large. "We have always identified with other second and third generation artists," says Cody and to be sure North Mississippi Allstars have long allied with the families of Hill Country icons like R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough via countless barbeques, tours, collaborations, and good old-fashioned parties.
All of this is to say: this music wasn’t learned- it’s in their blood. Originating in the eponymously-named region in northern Mississippi, the Hill Country Blues sound is distinct from perhaps the more well-known product coming out of the neighboring Delta. Fueled by corn liquor and incubated in heat, it’s punctuated by a focus on percussion, relentless groove, and an underlining rhythmic trance delivered via humming electric guitar. Influential artists such as the electric guitar trendsetting ‘Mississippi’ Fred McDowell, the punchy and groovy R.L. Burnside, and the uber-hypnotic Kimbrough, all demonstrate the key ingredients of this foot-stomping blues sound through their own distinct styles.
It is true that NMAS is deeply steeped in American blues and roots tradition, but they have been increasingly exploring more modern electronic and programming influences, particularly on their last two records. As ever, their latest album, Prayer for Peace, sees the Allstars putting their indelible stamp on classic blues numbers and folk traditionals, including McDowell's classics "61 Highway" and "You Got To Move," while also further delving into some more modern takes such as the electronica they injected into R.L.’s “Long Haired Doney.”
"I think it's our responsibility to the community that brought us up to protect the repertoire," Luther says. "To keep the repertoire alive and vibrant. That's what folk music is about. It's an oral history of America. My dad and his friends, they learned from Furry Lewis and Gus Cannon and Will Shade and then taught those songs to us. It's important for us to write songs and experiment and do other things, but playing our community's music in a modern way is what Cody and I do best. I think it's what we were meant to do." True as always to the blues tradition, North Mississippi Allstars use the basic structures taught to them as the starting point for improvisation and contemporary interpretation, jumping off points for exploration.
Looking at life beyond completion of Prayer for Peace, Luther says: "Now it's time to hit the road. Get to work and spread the word. We recorded this one in the spirit of our twentieth anniversary. Now we're looking towards our twenty-fifth. Twenty years is alright but twenty-five is monumental." Cody shared a similar forward-looking sentiment "This is a new beginning for North Mississippi Allstars. This revitalizing cascade of creativity and explosion of music, it's just been incredible. And I feel like we're just getting started. There's a long beautiful road ahead of us. We're only just now hitting our stride." This set will truly be a special treat, both to the casual blues/roots/Americana music lover; and to those of us who have been watching this dynamic act flourish the past couple of decades.
Watch North Mississippi Allstars perform "Rollin 'n Tumblin" here:
Dale Watson and His Lone Stars
- Austin, Texas -
Dale Watson, keeper of the true country music flame, carries on in the tradition of many before him, yet his sound is all his own. The Alabama-born, Texas-raised Watson is one of the hardest working (and colorful!) entertainers today and is rapidly approaching legendary status. He is a member of the Austin Music Hall of Fame, a country music maverick, and a true outlaw who stands alongside Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and George Strait as one of the finest country singers and songwriters out of the Lone Star State. Dale and his ace touring band, “His Lone Stars” are on an exalted list of acts today consistently playing ‘real’ country both live and in the studio.
Unhappy with existing labels, he created the term “Ameripolitan” to distinguish his brand of American roots music from the more pop-oriented sound coming out of Nashville. This style combines a unique blend of western swing, honky-tonk, rockabilly and outlaw country into the sound that you hear today. Dubbed "the silver pompadoured, baritone beltin', Lone Star beer drinkin', honky-tonk hellraiser" by The Austin Chronicle, Watson has shined on the late-night circuit (Jimmy Kimmel, David Letterman), performed on NPR, and logged numerous performances on Austin City Limits. A veteran touring artist and consummate entertainer, he is on the road more than 300 days a year and has released somewhere north of 30 albums (we lost count).
His musical journey began right out of high school as he started playing clubs and local honky-tonks around Texas. In 1988, it led him to move to Los Angeles. He played in the house band at the legendary Palomino Club in Hollywood for a couple years and recorded some singles before moving to Nashville to write songs for a publishing company. Commercial country did not fit the fiercely independent songwriter, so Dale relocated to Austin, Texas where he got a record deal and began to really find himself as a songwriter and performer. His life has taken more twists and turns than the Rio Grande since then, and he rumbles into the shed today - firing on all cylinders - ready to sweep everything in his path along a journey into the very essence of good-time country music.
Watch Dale Watson perform "I Die When I Drink" here:
- Birmingham, Alabama (via Montgomery) -
Originally hailing from Montgomery, Stewart now calls Birmingham home. He'd been away from Alabama for a few years, living in Nashville while earning his stripes as a songwriter, frontman, and lead guitarist. He gained valuable perspective while away, but still, something kept drawing him down South. He'd grown up here, surrounded by the twang of classic country music and the stomp of rootsy rock & roll. Alabama was a complicated place, its history filled with dark characters and cultural clashes, but it was oddly compelling, too. It was home. Unable to resist the pull, Stewart returned to Birmingham. There, after a decade away, he rediscovered his muse: the Modern South, whose characters, complexities, open spaces, and strange beauty are all channeled into Stewart's full-length solo debut, County Seat, a guitar-fueled Americana record, caught somewhere between the worlds of country and electrified rock.
Stewart adds his own perspective to eternal themes of Life, whether it be the musings of a lonely man in his twilight years, the longing for the wonder and innocence of young boundless adulthood, or the realization and acceptance of one’s nebulous existence while confronting and coping with one’s own vices. Sure, there is a passionate yearning in his music, as he explores the mysteries and murkiness of the 21st century South, but an undercurrent of hope is always flowing beneath the surface, punctuated by familiar electrified crescendos and timeless pedal steel guitar righteousness. When Stewart is on stage you’ll perhaps feel the presence of an old friend who’s been away for a while…perhaps there’s something different in the air you can’t explain, but the feeling just feels like…home.
Watch Will Stewart's music video for "Sipsey" here:
Moe’s Original Bar B Que
Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q
Full Moon Bar-B-Que
James Beard Award winning chef Ryan Prewitt (Peche; New Orleans)
Mojo Hand BBQ
Elaine Cole Releases Debut Single "Blame It on the Roses" May 20, 2019 23:17
Elaine Cole recently debuted her first independent single, “Blame It on the Roses”. This sort-of love ballad, or tune of trial was written entirely by Elaine, and recorded with the acclaimed John Mailander (fiddle), Cory Walker (banjo), Jake Stargel (guitar); mastered by Austin Lee, all in their hometown of Nashville, TN.
Elaine Cole (born Rachel Paschket) began her musical career as a child, singing in church choirs and music camps in her hometown of Franklin, Tennessee. Shortly after moving to southern California as an adolescent, Elaine's vocal abilities recieved recognition in the forms of a Macy Award as well as an Outlook Award, both for best overall vocal performance, as a result of vigorous theater and vocal trainings.
After spending early high school years studying in a musical theater environment at OCHSA, Elaine took her musical knowledge and applied to her southern roots. This bred a rabid appreciation for bluegrass and roots music, prompting her to join The Stolen Faces, where she would recreate the vocal abilities of Donna Jean Godchaux in a touring Grateful Dead tribute.
From singing with Elizabeth Cooke, Allen Thompson, and Todd Snyder, to starting her own band with Bradley Rosen (The Stone Hollers), Elaine has followed her passion of delving into the Americana. Elaine released her first solo original effort, "Wait For Rain EP" in August 2017. She is now working towards her newest solo effort, "Blame It on the Roses", a single produced with the help of some friends.
Stream "Blame It on the Roses" here:
Circles Around The Sun Proves the Hype is Real in Atlanta May 9, 2019 19:50
Big Friendly Takeover Tour Kicks off Friday at Avondale Brewery May 8, 2019 12:15
Photo by Craig Baird: Home Team Photography
Three of Alabama's hottest rising acts will join forces at Birmingham's Avondale Brewing Company on Friday night. Winston Ramble, Little Raine Band, and Taylor Hunnicutt will kick off what is sure to be a special tour, which also includes stops in Asheville (NC), Atlanta (GA), Montgomery (AL), and Mobile (AL). These three bands are certainly no strangers to one another, as their roots run deep across the greater Birmingham area. Based on what we've seen in the past, we should expect numerous collaborations throughout all three sets.
This has been a busy year, to say the least, for all three of these bands thus far. Winston Ramble continues to draw impressive crowds across the southeast, while having recently completed multiple successful runs out to Colorado. Their most recent single, "1000 Miles," alludes to the band's increasingly busy tour schedule and is more than worthy of an addition to your latest playlist. Back in early March, Little Raine Band released Dreamwalker, their first full length album since 2016. As expected, they have been grinding across the southeast in support of the release, which is one of our favorites of 2019. You can check out a detailed review of the entire album by clicking here. Taylor Hunnicutt has been one of Birmingham's brightest rising stars in recent years, and she sure seems bound to break out in 2019. You simply can't look away when she starts singing, and her "supporting cast" is as strong as any. Click here to check out her latest feature on al.com.
As an added bonus, Friday night's show in Birmingham will feature an opening set from Atlanta's Bird Dog Jubilee. If you're planning on heading over to the brewery, you definitely don't want to miss these guys. If that wasn't enough, you can walk across the street to Saturn and catch LUTHI, The Pearl, and Dirty Lungs immediately after the music ends at the brewery. Long story short: Avondale is the place to be on Friday night.
We took a few minutes to chat with members of Winston Ramble and Little Raine Band to learn more about their vision for this tour. See below for a few quotes from the conversation. Click here to purchase your tickets to see all three bands on Friday night in Birmingham.
“There’s nothing quite like playing music on the road with people you love. We’re all close friends and love making music together, so this is kind of like a family vacation in a way.. We’ve thrown around this idea for a while now and it’s awesome to see it finally come into fruition. There’s really no telling what you could expect from this tour, we have some fun surprises in store, other than that we know it’s going to get rowdy!” - Davis Little of Little Raine Band
"This run has been a long time coming, and I know we're all excited to make it happen. We've been lucky enough to share the stage with each other many times The Avondale show was so much fun last year, and we had to take it on the road. If I could pick any bands to travel and play with, it'd be these two. We love the music these two bands make and love the people who make it. Expect a show full of a many genres, original music, re-imagined covers, and collaborations. It'll be a damn good time." - Justin Oliver of Winston Ramble
Check out the official promo video for the BFT tour here:
Universal Sigh Releases New Single "Snow Dunes" May 3, 2019 09:51
Athens, GA - Metamorphic rock band Universal Sigh released a new single "Snow Dunes" on Tuesday, April 30th. This upbeat track features lively guitars and reminiscent lyrics inspired by the might of nature and the wisdom of hindsight. It was recorded with producer Tomas Uribe in several studios around Atlanta, GA. "Snow Dunes" marks the first studio release from Universal Sigh in three years and is the initial of several releases on the horizon in 2019.
Universal Sigh maintains a busy touring schedule averaging over 100 shows per year and will celebrate the release of “Snow Dunes” with a headlining appearance at Aisle 5 in Atlanta, GA on May 3rd following the Shaky Knees Music Festival.
Additionally Universal Sigh curates and hosts their own 2-Day Music and Arts festival called “Sigh In July” in Athens GA. The multi-day event showcases national, regional, and local talent to inspire consciousness and foster musical community. The 5th Annual Sigh in July will take place at Live Wire Athens on July 26th & 27th.
- "We have had a lot of fun working in the studio over the past 6 months. Our band has toured non-stop for several years now, and it's been refreshing to take a step back from performing to focus on the studio process. "Snow Dunes" was recorded in two Atlanta area studios: Prana Studio in Lilburn and Emanant Studio in Ackworth. Our producer Tomas Uribe, has been an amazing guide throughout our journey. His input has been invaluable, and we have developed an endearing personal and professional relationship."
- "Tomas fronts an excellent band called Kilroy Kobra based in Atlanta. We had an overwhelming amount of unrecorded material to choose from for these sessions, but we opted to release "Snow Dunes" first for a couple of reasons. We feel it highlights different facets of our sound, and it has historically been one of our most played songs in the live setting."
- "We plan to release another single in July and intend to drop our sophomore album this fall. Nothing is set in stone though. Hopefully, we can get back into the studio this winter to start working on our next project if time allows."
- "The band is incredibly excited to get back on stage in Atlanta. We love Aisle 5 and the last time we played it was a sold-out new years eve show with Funk You. This time we invited our longtime friends and fellow Athenians Partials to open up the show. They are fantastic and we are working on some collaborations that I'm sure the audience will enjoy."
- "Additionally, we are going to do something on Friday that we've never done before. At 10:00 PM, directly before the music begins, we will kick off the festivities by screening a short film that features members of Universal Sigh, Partials, and fellow Athens, GA band The Orange Constant. The mini-documentary is titled "Homegrown" and focuses on our experience hosting Sigh in July, our annual music and arts festival. It was produced by Guilty Peach Productions along with some of our best friends. We've never done a film premiere before so come celebrate our single release this Friday and bring some popcorn."
Steam Universal Sigh's "Snow Dunes" here:
Official Bio: Universal Sigh
Universal Sigh is set for high gear in 2019 and beyond. Their unique “metamorphic rock” compositions are rooted in quintessential groove that delves into an epic, cinematic, psychedelic jazz journey. Their soulful melodies reflect peaks and valleys of emotion and their harmonious improv sparks fascination in their listeners. This year will be a very productive year for the band boasting several single debuts and the release of the band's second full-length album.
Based out of Athens, GA these southern rockers have been bringing the heat across the country since 2013. In the past 2 years, the band has shared the stage with Leftover Salmon, Papadosio, Twiddle, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Spafford, The Main Squeeze, The Werks, Aqueous, Naughty Professor, The Jauntee, Cycles and more. The quartet regularly tours between the southeast and Colorado and produce their annual Sigh in July Music & Arts Festival every summer.
The band name Universal Sigh signifies a common thread that links everyone to life – the breath. Music, like breath, provides connection, awareness, and brings you into the present moment. Each breath and song is a simple reminder that we are all connected and reliant on each other in this journey through life.
Nostalgia vs. the Now: 25 Years with The String Cheese Incident April 30, 2019 10:44
Photo by Dylan Langille: ontheDL Photography
Interview by Brett Hutchins: BrettOnBands.com
Ten years ago, The String Cheese Incident took a chance on me.
As naive senior at Florida State, the dread and uncertainty of post-graduation was met with one sure thing - my absolute need to be involved in music. Resumes flew out to damn near every record label, booking agency, and publicity firm in the country.
One returned the email.
A day after graduation, I made the trek from Tallahassee, FL to Boulder, CO for an internship at SCI Fidelity Records. I was quickly rocketed into a world gloriously foreign to me, where all are welcome and the most different of people and styles are free to come together. The music of the String Cheese Incident did for me what it has done for people around the world and even the band members themselves. It forged seemingly impossible connections through the simple act of being open to adventure.
Bassist Keith Moseley chats here about the band’s 25 years, the communal spirit behind the band and its fans, and how the city of New Orleans inspires the band in front of this week’s JazzFest after-parties. It’s a conversation that points to the immense ways that music can transcend time and boundaries of all kinds.
Congrats on the 25th anniversary. Do you feel old?
Keith: Every day. It’s a serious milestone to reflect on and live with the fact that we’ve been a band for 25 years. We’re beating the odds and all staying healthy. I feel like we are making the best music ever together, too. It’s a special feeling.
I’ve read a lot of interviews where you speak about staying in the moment. How do you keep focused on that when there is so much nostalgia in the air this year?
Keith: The moment on stage? Part of being present with the band is how much new material we’ve written and recorded in the last few years. It feels like the band is going through a renewed sense of growth. To execute those songs onstage, you really have to be mindful and present. There’s no auto-pilot when you’re playing brand new songs. You have to remain super engaged up there in trying to play them the best you can.
Your music has created life-changing memories for thousands of folks. How does the band avoid the pressure of feeling like they need to replicate past experiences for some of their veteran fans?
Keith: There is definitely some expectation of the band every time we hit the stage. Some of that results in pressure to live up to the past, but we view it more as a responsibility to our fans and our past than pressure. This band, the music we make, and this scene we curate is big and important, more so than any one of us. It’s showing up and playing your role in this bigger thing. It’s all encompassing in that way. Sometimes you get that liftoff where the whole physical experience can take on importance for people.
When you guys were playing ski bars in the beginning, was there ever any thought into how big this could be?
Keith: It was hard to see how big it could go. 25 years and traveling worldwide with this music is a big deal. It’s hard to imagine, although the connection was very real on a smaller scale. We did get to those points of playing music quickly in those small bars. It got magical quickly. Getting that feeling and knowing we’re doing something emotional and powerful is a unique experience. Getting into those moments of absence is a special place I like to get to whenever I can.
I’ve chatted about Cheese with strangers in as faraway lands as Thailand. The community truly is worldwide. What makes your fans so special?
Keith: Our fans in general are an open-minded adventurous spirit as a group. They’re open to our wild palate of music and diverse ideas. That’s the type of people I want to hang out with.
Are there things the guys do, either musically or otherwise, that surprise you even after all this time?
Keith: Musically, we’re so familiar with each other, but surprises do still happen. I feel really fortunate to play with such amazing and spirited fellows. They’re a great group and it’s always an adventure. Personally, it’s fun, too. We’ve all been friends for a long time. Travis starting a family was a big surprise. We didn’t see that coming. But as an example, that’s been an amazing growth experience for him and it’s brought a lot of joy to his playing.
How organic is the current writing process? I’d imagine it helps a ton having your own studio space.
Keith: The Sound Lab has really gotten our focus and writing in place. We can come directly off the road and everything’s already set up to go. It’s been super inspiring. The process of writing is different for everyone. Lots of times we get together and band mates bring in songs that are complete or nearly complete. It’s just a matter of how we are going to put our group touch on it. Other times, it’s a group writing process where we’ve got a jam or a groove we’ve played before and want to revisit to build into an actual song.
It’s nice to have a studio space where we can come together and not be on the clock. It sure beats paying tons of money to be put on deadlines and have songs put together in x-amount of time. It helps us to be able to spread out the process between the writing and then shift into rehearsal head space.
Photo by Jordan Kirkland: Live & Listen
How has family life and time passing in general affected the band’s songwriting?
Keith: Where you’re coming from in life is always going to have a big effect on your output when you’re writing. A lot of us are feeling mature in a lot of ways these days, with kids leaving home and moving on. Some of the guys have younger kids. Different chapters in your life affect songwriting in different ways. When there is a deeper well to draw from, it’s bound to yield positive results. That well gives you time to reflect and comment based on things you’ve seen. I’m excited about the material the band’s putting out. We’re still getting better and that alone is super exciting.
Are there any surprising lessons you’ve learned from music that you take into your everyday life?
Keith: Not many surprising, but lessons continue to reveal themselves, the most basic being that what you get out of it is a reflection of what you put into it. That remains true on so many levels.
What goes into preparations for shows these days with the weekend runs?
Keith: We’ll usually try to come up with a setlist before the run and pass that along via email to give everyone a chance to throw their input in. We’ll have a little time to prep on it and then we’ll rehearse and try to go over some of the stuff we haven’t hit in a long time or rehash the newer tunes. We have been rehearsing a lot though, which has been fun. There’s a lot of pre-planning, but there is always the chance we might ditch the setlist or call an audible here and there.
Does the time in between shows make it more difficult to build more momentum into the improve spaces?
Keith: That’s a continuing discussion with the band. Was it better when we were on the road playing five, six nights a week? The band certainly gets into a unique space when you’re doing intensive touring. Just by the virtue of all that time together, you get to a different space in the playing.
The flipside is that it can be a burnout being out for long stretches. Attacking things like we are right now gives us time to come in refreshed and looking forward to the gig, plus giving us rehearsal time at home. There are pros and cons of every way of doing these things.
The crowd comes in fresh and excited, as well.
Keith: Yeah, people are pumped to come to New Orleans. We had a big weekend in St. Louis after not being there in forever. It’s been a great run of shows this Spring, and I think we’re on a great trajectory.
I’ll be shooting over for those New Orleans shows. How will the shows with guests be structured? Full shows? Full sets? Just a few songs?
Keith: Just a few songs most likely.
What’s the communication like with these guests beforehand?
Keith: We’ll have a point person in the band assigned to each guest. They’ll reach out and get an idea of the tunes they can do, and then we’ll have some rehearsal with them day of show.
You guys have a pretty cool history with New Orleans all the way back to the early days. What makes New Orleans so special for the band?
Keith: We’ve all just been attracted to the vibe of the city and the musical richness of the city for a really long time. Before I had ever been to New Orleans, I was fan of its music. The Meters, the Neville Brothers, Dr. John.
We did some early gigs at the Maple Leaf mid to late 90s. It’s such a small room, but it was awesome soaking up the vibe. We’d see as many shows as we could see as well. I have great memories of seeing a late night Gatemouth Brown show. CJ Chenier and Buckwheat Zydeco come to mind as well. So we get pumped just coming to New Orleans.
Stream SCI's 1997 Maple Leaf Show with 2019 featured guest Anders Osborne here:
One last question and it might be the big unanswerable, but what’s next for the band after this anniversary run?
Keith: More of the same in a way. We’re going to hit it hard this year. There’s still some unannounced shows on the horizon for the remainder of the calendar year we’ll bust out soon. We look forward to getting out some unreleased music we’ve been working on in the Lab and a few more tracks that are going to trickle out and perhaps package that as an album. We’re on a great path as far as recording and creating music, and playing some great destination venues. We’ll look forward to more of that.
Great. I appreciate the time, Keith. It’s impossible to overstate how important the band’s music has been for me. It truly changed the trajectory of my life.
Keith: Thanks so much. It’s happened that way for a lot of people. It’s been a huge influence on all of us, too. We’ve all met our best friends, wives, and all kinds of people through this community. Thanks for being a part of it. We appreciate you.
Ready for Festival Season: Catching up with SunSquabi April 28, 2019 18:51
Adam MacDougall of Circles Around the Sun: A Band Beyond Description April 24, 2019 13:58
Words by Josh Hettermann
Photo by ontheDL Photo
Not long into a conversation with Adam MacDougall, the keyboard aficionado who has played with The Black Crowes and The Chris Robinson Brotherhood, he remarked, “This is without a doubt the most serendipitous band I’ve ever been in.” It takes a deeper understanding of Circles Around the Sun, the outfit MacDougall was referencing, to fully comprehend that statement.
The group, popularly referred to as CATS by fans and industry professionals alike, assembled in 2015 and recorded Interludes for the Dead, which was broadcasted at the set break of the 5 Grateful Dead 50th anniversary shows that year. Joined by his CRB bandmate Neal Casal and veteran musicians in bassist Dan Horne and drummer Mark Levy, MacDougall and the group recorded what he readily admitted, “Wasn’t really an album... but more a reflection on iconic Grateful Dead tunes that were danceable and fun.”
The response from the hundreds of thousands of fans both at the shows and those streaming at home was influential in the band’s decision to pursue further musical exploration together. Acknowledging this, MacDougall quipped, “So whenever everyone was sitting there packing their bongs or making cocktails or whatever at set break, we were strapped on to the back of those shows. It was huge.” After cutting their teeth with a few live performances in the following year, the foursome reconvened at Castaway 7 Studios in Ventura, CA in 2018 to record their sophomore album Let it Wander.
The record is not an enormous departure from Interludes for the Dead, but it most certainly displays the band’s growth as a cohesive unit and their desire to create a more original sound. If Interludes was a rhythmic dip in a tide pool, Let it Wander is a journey into the waves and depth of the ocean.
Touching on the serendipity that MacDougall referenced earlier, a notable track from the record is “A Song for Chuck,” which features a toast from the legendary Public Enemy frontman Chuck D, who records at the same studio. Chuck stopped by while Circles was laying down one of their rhythms for the new album and liked the sound, so studio head JP Hesser asked him if he wanted to come back and add his voice to the track’s intro. Chuck happily obliged. Despite whatever title for the track the band had in mind, “A Song for Chuck” just fit better. Such is the benefit of recording instrumentals.
Let it Wander was released to universal acclaim and has coincided with the band’s steady rise as a major player in the current live music scene. When speaking of this success, MacDougall credited the group’s potentially risky decision to open for the tour de force that is Greensky Bluegrass for a dozen shows in early 2019. “You don’t open shows to make money... but once we saw some of the venues we would be playing (with Greensky), like the Beacon in New York, we couldn’t turn it down.” A highlight of that stretch of shows, undoubtedly, was when Adam and CATS’ guitarist Neil Casal sat in with Greensky at the iconic Tabernacle in Atlanta.
The success of that stretch lead Circles Around the Sun to book their first major headlining tour, starting this Saturday in Austin at Antone’s Nightclub. While this two month tour will hit many of the similar Southeastern markets that the group played with Greensky, it also includes new markets, “Like Texas... which is scary!” It also includes a stop at the up and coming Aiken Bluegrass Festival in South Carolina, where they will join fellow Greensky tour opener Cris Jacobs Band as one of the only non-bluegrass bands on the lineup. MacDougall doesn’t see this as a challenge, though, stating, “If we can make people dance for a few hours, that’s all we really care about.”
Adam MacDougall has an enviable enthusiasm about being a part of this band. “I get to play with really great friends and great people. I’ve known Mark forever and Dan is an incredible bass player, and Neal and I have built a musical language for almost a decade now.” Circles Around the Sun is undoubtedly one of the hottest acts in the current live music scene. “This is my retirement plan,” said a laughing MacDougall. “I could easily sit back in an easy chair with this band for as long as people will have us.” He better get comfortable in that chair... Circles Around the Sun have only just begun to rise.
Check out Circles Around the Sun's "One for Chuck" here:
10 Reasons Not to Miss SweetWater 420 Festival April 18, 2019 01:33
1. Two nights of Widespread Panic. Need we say more?
- Let's face it. This festival is in the heart of Panic country, and there is not a more prime candidate to close out the festival on Saturday and Sunday night. The band's history in Atlanta is well documented, most recently completing a three-night New Year's run at The Fox Theatre that we're still trying to comprehend. Being back in Georgia always seems to bring out the best in the band, and if anyone understands the level of expectation for these four sets, it's these guys right here.
- In case you missed it, Panic's last 420 Fest performance fell on Sunday, April 23rd in 2017. The show kicked off in powerful fashion with "Disco" > "Arleen" and made for one of the hottest festival shows in recent years. I think it's safe to assume there will be much more where that came from this weekend.
2. Joe Russo's Almost Dead: There are tribute bands, and then there's JRAD.
- Prepare to hear the music of the Grateful Dead like you've never heard it before. If you've had a chance to catch this band before, you know to expect the unexpected. These guys use the Dead's catalog as a launching pad into another dimension, and there's no telling where they'll take a jam at any given moment. Friday night will be dominated by the two-and-a-half hour set from Joe Russo's Almost Dead.
- The all-star cast features Joe Russo (drums/vocals), Marco Benevento (keys/vocals), Tom Hamilton (guitar/vocals), Scott Metzger (guitar/vocals), and Dave Dreiwitz (bass/vocals).
3. Stay in tune with the jam scene's hottest rising acts.
- While the lineup is consistently diverse, you can always count on 420 Fest to feature several of the jam scene's hottest rising acts. Take a look at this year's lineup, and you'll see exactly what we mean.
- Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Billy Strings, Big Something, & Turkuaz are absolutely "can't miss acts" this year. There is a reason that you continue to see these names rise on festival billings each year. You can also find them packing out venues across the country, while releasing new, original material that we're all singing along with in no time.
- Surely you're familiar with the mad scientist known as Keller Williams. Have you heard about Grateful Grass though? This set is appropriately scheduled for 12:00 PM on Easter Sunday. Bring your bible, 'cause Keller's gonna take us all to church.
- Everyone Orchestra will feature a fully improvised set from members of Umphrey's McGee, Trey Anastasio Band, Jane's Addition, Greensky Bluegrass, and more on Saturday at 2:30 PM.
4. This lineup offers a beautiful variety that any music fan can enjoy.
- It's a challenge to even begin keeping up with the amount of annual music festivals in 2019. While many of the these lineups are designed to cater to a specific fan base, such as jam bands or bluegrass, 420 Fest steps outside the box. While there's plenty of jam over the weekend, major national acts such as The Avett Brothers, Moon Taxi, Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, Rebelution, and Iration.
5. THE BEER: Who could forget about the beer?
- You'd be hard pressed to find a brewery with tastier options from top to bottom. This brewery's impact on the city of Atlanta, our beloved music scene, and the entire Southeast, really, can't be overstated.
- Prepare to see the following SweetWater brews across the festival 420 Pale Ale, IPA, 420 Strain G-13 IPA, 420 Strain Mango Kush Wheat Ale, Peach Love & Happiness, and Guide Beer: A Lager.
- Have you heard about the artist collaboration brews? This year you will find the Pigeons Playing Ping Pong's IPPPA, Iration's Already Gold, and Fruition's "Fruition's Fire."
- Take a break from the sun and stop by the SweetWater Experience Tent, a weekend-long craft beer centric event where you can taste your way through 25 unique styles of SweetWater beers. Enjoy presentations a wide variety of topics. We've included the schedule for the SweetWater experience below.
6. Sustainability: SweetWater 420 Fest's eco-friendly focus grows stronger each year.
- Did you know that 420 Fest started as an Earth Day celebration in 2005? Festival organizers continue to go the extra mile each year with so many ways you can contribute.
- Make sure to purchase your refillable Steelys cup to do your part and protect the environment this weekend.
- Make sure to stop by the Planet 420 Eco-Village, where the majority of environmental workers spend the weekend raising awareness for Mother Earth. Hands-on workshops engage attendees and educate them on how to become more eco-friendly in their day-to-day lives.
- The festival offers a heap of transportation options, such as MARTA and Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, which allow for eco-friendly choices to avoid the hassle of parking downtown.
- To date, 420 Fest has donated over $120,000 to various neighborhood organizations including CPNO, Park Pride, and Friends of Candler Park (where the festival was previously held).
7. You never know what you'll find in the artist + craft vendor market.
- There's more to SweetWater 420 Fest than just music and beer. Each year, dozens of artists and craft vendors from across the country are showcased at the 420 Fest Artist Market. You never know what you might stumble across amongst your artist village at a major music festival. Arrive a little early or maybe even take a break from the music and check out the entire festival grounds this year.
8. Lyrics & Laughter Stage will put a smile on your face.
- While the SweetWater Stage and 420 Strain Stage get the majority of the attention, one of our favorite elements of 420 Fest is the Lyrics & Laughter Stage, which is presented by Aisle 5. This stage hosts a mix of both local, up-and-coming bands, as well as a handful of nationally touring acts. We're especially excited for Cory Wong of Vulfpeck (Friday), SunSquabi (Saturday), Zach Deputy & The Yankees (Sunday), Hedonistas (Saturday), Flow Tribe (Friday), Travers Brothership (Friday), Voodoo Visionary (Sunday), and The Orange Constant (Sunday).
- You don't want to miss out on Joe Pettis and Andrew Michael either. These two stand up comedians will perform on each day in between various sets on the Lyrics & Laughter stage. Click here to check out the schedule.
9. Got a minute to give? Don't miss the 4:19 Auctions.
- The 420 Fest band charity auction will benefit each participating artists charity of choice. Participating artists include Widespread Panic (Tunes for Tots), The Avett Brothers (Press On), Joe Russo's Almost Dead (Atlanta Community Food Bank), Rebelution (Atlanta Music Project), Moon Taxi (We're Hear For You), Claypool Lennon Delirium (Atlanta Community Food Bank), Pigeons Playing Ping Pong (Music In The Park), SunSquabi (Can'd Aid Foundation), Billy Strings (Nicholas House), Cory Wong (Conscious Allience), BIG Something (Atlanta Music Project), Fruition (Atlanta Music Project), Pink Talking Fish (Positive Legacy), and Turkuaz (Positive Legacy)...just to name a few.
- Auction items include concert tickets, signed memorabilia, photos, meet & greets, and more. Mobile bidding began on April 16th and lasts through the end of the weekend. CLICK HERE to register for online bidding.
10. There's some serious after shows to choose from. Killer late night sets across the city.
- Not quite ready to call it a night after the headliner? No problem. The afterparties surrounding this year's festival are as strong as you'll find anywhere. Terminal West will host Ghost Light on Friday night and Billy Strings on Saturday. Aisle 5 will host Voodoo Visionary on Thursday, Higher Learning on Friday, SunSquabi on Saturday, and Knower + Nate Wood Four on Sunday. Additional afters shows we're keeping an eye on include Bird Dog Jubilee & Schema at Cotton Club (downstairs at the Tabernacle) on Friday and Runaway Gin "Make Phish Evil Again" at The Loft on Friday.
Here's a quick video recap from the 2018 festival:
Check out the full weekend schedule and map out your weekend below!
Year Two of Ghost Light: An Interview with Tom Hamilton April 16, 2019 13:47
Interview by Jordan Kirkland: Live & Listen
Photo by Donna Winchester: DonnasPics
In preparation for Ghost Light's upcoming run through the southeast, we recently sat down with guitarist / vocalist Tom Hamilton to learn more about what what we can expect from the band in year two, their recent album release, and much more. With scheduled performances in Nashville (4/16), Asheville (4/17), Charleston (4/18), Atlanta (4/19), and Charlotte (4/20), southern jam fans have plenty of options. The tour continues on April 24th at Zydeco in Birmingham, and you can enter to win a pair of tickets by sharing this interview from the Live & Listen Facebook page. See below for our full conversation with Tom, and make sure you don't miss out on this run!
Let's start off by talking about your personal journey. You've toured the country and been involved with a number of projects. How would you describe the journey thus far?
Tom: Yeah man. It's been a long go, I guess. I started playing at bars when I was twelve, and I just turned forty. That's a good amount of time. It's funny. Starting that early, there was never really an option. There was no "plan B," so to speak. This is just what you do, because you love to play music. Starting in middle school, I was a student with a part time job. On the weekends, I played concerts. It's always been like that. Up until about four years ago, I always had a job as well. It's something I did because I loved to do it.
With my first band, Brothers Past, that was a college experience. I lived with a bunch of dudes. It was like living in a frat house. None of us knew what the fuck we were doing...with any of it. That was a van full of 21 to 24 year old kids with no internet or iPhone. We had an atlas and a van. It was just like, "Ok...I guess we're gonna drive to fuckin' Cleveland today!" That kind of fell apart unfortunately, or I guess fortunately, because I'm ok with where I am now. I love being in a band. I've always enjoyed that comradery and the hang in general. It's something I've always been super into.
Clearly. Things have obviously come a long way since then. Joe Russo's Almost Dead has really taken off. I'm sure that's been a bit of a game changer for you personally. How much have things changed since then?
Tom: Hmm...I don't think things have changed personally. You're talking to me right now. I'm in Columbus, Ohio at a 300 person venue that I've played a bunch of times over the course of my life. I've been on the road for four weeks. I'm in a van with five other people. This could be April 11th 2019. This could also be April 11th 2001. There's not that much of a fucking difference.
The JRAD thing has been amazing. You're right. It's provided so many opportunities and has made it more feasible, or maybe more comfortable, to do what I'm doing right now. I'm still doing the same shit though. I still have the same goals. I started Ghost Light last year, and fortunately, my experience over the years and the entire organization has allowed us to grow a lot in our first year of existence. It hasn't changed my goals, which are to be in a band with a group of people that is based around original music.
That's what I like to do. I like to make interesting records. I feel like I've stuck to my guns, you know? When I was a kid, in my mid-twenties, someone asked me to take a gig with this band that just wasn't my cup of tea. It wouldn't have been something that I believed in and enjoyed. I would have just done it for the money. I turned it down, and at the time, I was fucking poor. I had been living on Joe Russo's couch for the better part of four years. I had changed my residence to a couch in The Disco Biscuits' studio in Philadelphia. I was sleeping on that couch or in my car, so it's not like I was in a position to be picky about gigs. I didn't want to just do something for the money. My buddy thought I was crazy. I told him the only gig I'd ever consider doing that wasn't my music was something related to the Grateful Dead. That's how I started listening to and playing music.
So when the JRAD thing came together, I was all about it. I love the Grateful Dead. That music is a part of my DNA and a part of my existence. I've been lucky that I've been able to get to this point. I'm not fucking Bono or anything. I'm just a working musician, but I'm able to make a living doing it. I can look in the mirror everyday because I got here doing what I wanted to do. I didn't have to take a bunch of bullshit gigs that I didn't believe in, and there's a small sense of satisfaction with that.
Photo by Craig Baird: Home Team Photography
I can imagine so. So more specifically, Ghost Light is entering year two now. You guys have covered a lot of ground thus far. Packing out venues from day one. How has this experience been for you thus far, and what stands out the most when looking back on year one?
Tom: Oh man. It's been really interesting. The response has been crazy...and heartwarming. It's really nice that people are taking a chance on coming out and seeing this band. I feel like most of the reaction has been very positive. Those people seem to enjoy it and are likely to come back again. That's a nice feeling, because there's a lot of stock in the tribute thing right now. It's nice to know that people are still open minded enough to come check out a new original band that isn't playing Grateful Dead or Phish tunes.
That's gotta be encouraging, especially considering that this is a brand new band performing new original material. A lot of people are coming out and giving you guys a chance without having a whole lot of familiarity with the band's catalog.
Tom: Absolutely. I'm really proud of our management team. They've done an amazing job getting our live material out there into the ether and consciousness of the listener. Whether it's through live recording on Archive.org or video clips, it's been great to see the positive reaction. People are willing to pay their hard earned money to see us play. There's only so many people and only so much money people have to spend. When someone chooses to spend that time and money on us, it's a pretty special feeling.
It's been about three weeks since the release of the band's debut album, Best Kept Secrets. The band ultimately decided to release two singles prior to the full album release. What do you feel are some of the positives and negatives of releasing a new album in the modern digital era?
Tom: Honestly, I think it's all positives. You're putting out an album. You create a piece of art, that is ideally something that really matters. It's part of being a creative person. I've never taken that lightly. I love albums, but I do realize that, in some ways, it is the less desired form of consumption. That doesn't mean you stop cutting albums though. There are plenty of people that still appreciate it. So yeah, I think it's all positives man. I look at as a piece of art, a statement, and piece of yourself. It's a very important landmark in your life. I look back on my life and career thus far, and the albums reflect my experiences. They're great chapters. It's a really exciting thing for me.
Absolutely. I'm sitting here looking at Spotify right now. The first single you released was "Best Kept Secrets," and it's already sitting with 72,000+ streams. The various streaming networks certainly give you the ability to reach a wide audience quickly, which is valuable.
Tom: Yeah...it's all good man. Even if people don't like it, I'm cool with it. As long as it's out there.
You mentioned that you're a few weeks in to a three month tour across the country. What habits and patterns have you developed over the years to keep a sound mind and body while living on the road?
Tom: Oh man. That's a great question. I try not to take anything too personally. We're out here, and we have a mission. We're out here to make this music and present ourselves to the masses. Personally, I just try to keep my eye on the ball. Obviously, the hang is important. Having fun is important. At the end of the day, I try to keep my head on straight. Be conscious of what the goal is. There are days off, and someone might want to go for a hike. Maybe it's best for me (and best for the show) if I just chill and recharge the batteries. Maybe going for a hike is the best thing another day. Being self aware and always trying to do what's best for the three hours you have to put everything out on stage, you know?
That makes sense. I know that you take a lot of pride in keeping things fresh and putting on a unique show every night. How does each set play out with preparation vs. improvisation?
Tom: It's one of my favorite parts of the process. We don't ever have a setlist. We have a song list, maybe eight songs, that we know we want to play. We just go out there, play, and figure it out as the show unfolds. As we're walking on stage, we'll decide on a starting point. That's about the extent of the planning. Whatever happens happens. We try to have strong communication on stage, and if someone brings the band to a certain song, then that's where we go. We get there, play that tune, and keep moving.
Photo by Donna Winchester: DonnasPics
What is the band's approach towards covers? Is there much focus on keeping a fresh rotation?
Tom: Here and there. Personally, I don't care that much about it. I get my fill playing covers with JRAD. With Ghost Light, we try to throw in some covers to keep things fresh. I try not to give too much credence to that shit. A lot of the blogs out there focus on when a band plays a certain cover. Why not give more coverage to their original music, you know? (laughs). Personally, I try not to put too much weight into the cover thing. We have some cool ones on the list that are certainly outside the box. We do an 80's Kinks song and a Shins tune. Those aren't covers that a lot of people in our scene are going to expect.
I like that approach. It's always refreshing to hear a cover that hasn't been done a million times.
Tom: Yeah man. We like to try some different things and throw in a few deep cuts.
Before we wrap things up, I was curious to know how you're balancing things out between JRAD and Ghost Light. How do you see the calendar playing out for the rest of 2019?
Tom: Honestly, balance isn't really a luxury that I have. JRAD does 40 shows a year, and that's that. Ghost Light is probably going to do 80 to 100. That's what you have to do to grow a band and build something new.
That's almost half the year already.
Tom: Yeah...it's a lot of fucking time (laughs). To quote The Godfather Pt. 2, "this is the business we have chosen." I don't know man. I've just always tried to work as hard as I can. Put your head down, dig in, and do the job. Good things will happen. They might not happen right when you want them to. I would have rather had this kind of success when I was in my twenties, and not have to wait 'til my late thirties, but it still came. I believe it's because I work very hard. I think that's a truth that anyone would try to deny. It is what it is.
Balance is something I'll worry about in a few years. Maybe when I get to fifty, I'll try to find some balance. At the moment, I love the JRAD thing so much. I love the hang. I love that music. With Ghost Light, we're building something here that people are reacting to. I'm responsible for my bandmates as much as they're responsible for me. I need to work as hard as I can to make sure that their careers are as successful as mine, if not better. There's a lot that needs to happen, but balance isn't really a part of it for me.
There's a time and place for everything. It's been a pleasure catching up with you. I really enjoyed interviewing the entire band back in December, but I wanted to make sure we covered some different topics today.
Second Annual SandJam Brings Massive Lineup to Panama City March 28, 2019 23:08
Press Release via SandJam.com
“We are beyond excited about these headliners,” said SandJam Executive Producer Rendy Lovelady. “Kings of Leon and Third Eye Blind are absolutely huge, and Young The Giant looks like they’ll have their first #1 single when the Festival rolls around.”
Blurring Traditions and Definitions with Billy Strings March 21, 2019 11:34
Interview by Brett Hutchins: Brett on Bands
Billy Strings sees you on your phone at his show. And he’s about to make you feel weird about it. Coming off the heels of a monster week at Austin’s SXSW festival, the progressive bluegrass guitarist extraordinaire took a breather before his shows at Pensacola’s Vinyl Music Hall and Suwannee Spring Reunion to chat about his endless touring, how he handles rough crowds, and his band’s embrace of the unknown.
Though Billy’s fearless guitar playing boggles minds on its own, he has locked in a unit of mandolin, upright bass, and banjo that is committed to each other and their crowds in a special way. There’s purposeful playing here, but more importantly, there’s a whole lot of fun - the type of fun that forces you to look at strangers to confirm that yes, we all just witnessed that together. Do not miss this show when it comes to town.
You were immediately surrounded by bluegrass upon birth, but do you think it would have found you if not for your family?
Billy: I wonder. That’s a great question. You could say it’s 50/50. There’s a lot of people born when I was in 1992 that have no idea what the hell bluegrass is. When I think about it, I am grateful to my father for showing me the music. I attribute it to my parents’ influence.
And you still play with him a decent amount, don’t you?
Billy: Absolutely. It’s because of him that I’m out here doing this. I don’t think I would’ve found this bluegrass, at least not to the degree that I’ve fallen in love with it.
Was there ever any pressure in being labeled a protege?
Billy: No. Never. In fact, my parents never pushed me either way. It was more like I wanted to play because my dad was so cool.
Looking at your writing, there’s a lot of darkness in your lyrics, but glimmers of hope shine through. Where does that hope come from?
Billy: Man, that’s a good question, too. Waking up everyday and seeing the sun. Seeing my friends, and hoping for the best. Obviously, you can plan for the worst. It’s positivity. I got a lot of negativity, too, with what I write about. I write about poverty and substance abuse. It’s where I grew up - Small Town America. I write about little tiny towns with little tiny high schools, where kids are snorting pills off their desks.
That authenticity comes through. There’s also an anti-authoritarian, almost us vs. them vibe to a lot of your lyrics and the music backs it up. Where does that sort of writing come from in songs like “On the Line” and “Dealing With Despair”?
Billy: I don’t think of myself as being separate from animals. It is us vs. them, them being people who are in charge and people who are raping the planet. Government and mines and money, and all this fake bullshit instead of what’s really here on a beautiful planet that we’re all living on together. I have strong feelings about the direction of humanity.
As you’re reaching more people, do you find that what you are doing is more purposeful? It sounds like you are on a mission to spread that positivity. Is that on purpose?
Billy: Absolutely. I see how music affects people. They come out to our shows, have a good time with their friends, and smile. That’s important for a lot people who work all week - to just let go. It’s important for me too. When I look out and see somebody get lost in the music and it looks like they’re having a blissful experience, that’s the greatest compliment anyone could ever give me. That’s what satisfies me in a way, knowing that I am spreading positive energy and light.
How much of that energy in the crowd affects you guys on stage?
Billy: 110%. I sometimes think of it that I am only as good as the audience. I can only play as well as the audience can play that night. If people are really into the music and interested in what we’re doing, I can and will play my best. The more that people are into it, the better I play.
How do you power through it when the crowd isn’t as engaged?
Billy: That’s part of being a pro. You have to face those days. There are ups and downs. There are days where you’re playing a nice arena and the next day you’re going to be explaining to some drunk dude why he can’t play your guitar during setbreak.
That’s really happened?
Billy: Oh yeah. Or the harmonica guy - why he can’t come up and play with you. Sorry man, but no.
How do you keep up with the number of shows you’re doing with how physical you are up on stage? It has to take its toll.
Billy: I’m glad someone noticed! I was worried that nobody cared about my well-being. No man, I’m really lazy now that I have so many gigs. Whenever I’m not on stage, I just want to relax and totally zen out as much as I can because I give all my energy to the tour and performances. Sometimes, I stay home from the carnival just so I can relax.
Paul Hoffman from Greensky Bluegrass joked that you never turn down gigs. Do you?
Billy: Ha! Never! No, I don’t have much to do these days with that part of it. I’ve released all control onto my team. Sometimes, I’ll say, hey we really want to do this gig or do we really have to do this gig, depending on what it is.
Do you find any limitations with the current acoustic format as far as sounds you might want to be making but can’t because of the instrumentation?
Billy: These are good questions. Good job. Maybe a little bit. I’m always hoping for this bigger sound, but it is just us four up there. So maybe sometimes if I’m up on stage, I’m just dreaming about this big sound, but it’s just us four up there going “plinky plinky plink”. Maybe I’m just pretending like we have a big sound and trying to come across that way. I do love playing electric guitar, and I do love playing loud, so maybe someday, I will do some gigs with a rock band, but it’s never going to be the main focus.
So if it happens, you envision it being a separate entity?
Billy: Yeah, a side project, or you might see “Billy Strings Electric” on a festival bill. For the most part, this progressive bluegrass is what we’re doing.
Along those same lines, psychedelia has obviously had a huge impact on your sound, but how has it affected your approach to playing and the intention behind it?
Billy: It makes me want to be less mechanical and technical and be more spiritual and soulful. I want to reach deep into my soul and pull out emotions and have them regurgitated through my guitar. That’s what it’s about. And also the freedom of it. Getting into the Grateful Dead and stuff like that. Studying Jerry taught me a freedom in music that I didn’t learn in bluegrass. Bluegrass is really structured and you have your set solos and everyone takes their turn. There are fiddle tunes where everybody knows the melody and where they go. Rarely are we 100% purely jamming - just reading each other’s emotions and going for it. So I’ve found out that I really like doing that more and more now. I really like trying to play stuff where we don’t really know what the hell we are doing, but it sounds cool.
A lot of what you just said there, I think, also speaks to Col. Bruce’s influence on you, even if it was after he passed. Is that the case?
Billy: He’s one of the greatest at those things that I’m talking about. Everything’s out there in the ether. The music. The weirdness. The sounds. The emotions. They’re all out there. You have to reach out there and grab them and spit them out of your guitar somehow. It’s a weird energy thing. People like Col. Bruce and other improvisational jazz players tap into this other realm and spit it out. I don’t really know how to explain it because I don’t fully understand it myself.
It’s obvious the crowd feeds off of how you embrace that unknown.
Billy: We know just as little about what we’re going to do next than what the crowd does.. We’re just as surprised when we land something.
Are you able to take in any shows as a spectator?
Billy: Not as much as I’d like to because usually when I am at a show, I am working in some way. I don’t go to many concerts. Something in the back of my head lately has been telling me that I need to go see more shows as a stress reliever. I want to go see Tedeschi Trucks Band again, along with so much other good stuff going on right now.
Do you ever see people talking in the middle of your shows and if so, what’s the Billy Strings way of telling them to shut the fuck up?
Billy: Play some really weird shit on my guitar and stare directly at them. I do that sometimes if I see someone just looking at their phone. I will play a bad note, something that sounds like shit, just so that person’s like, “Wait, what?!”. And then they’ll notice I’m staring right at them and they’re like, “Oh, fuck, I am busted.”
Called out by the man.
Billy: Totally. I’m not going to get on the mic and tell people what to do, but I’ll play that weird stuff until they notice.
Last question - are you linking up with fiddler John Mailander at Suwannee Spring Reunion?
Billy: Oh, shit!
He’s there all weekend.
Billy: He reached out to me and I am an asshole.
I wouldn’t complain if you made that happen.
Billy: You just reminded me is what you did, that I need to make that happen. So yes, and thank you for the reminder.
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